The Nashville Predators, fresh off being swept out of the first round by the Colorado Avalanche, should do a little sweeping of their own this offseason.
Not the kind of sweeping in hockey, where you completely dominate the opponent from start to finish. That’s what happened to the Preds over the last six days, with the Avs outscoring them 21 to 9 and, frankly, looking like they were playing a different sport most of the time.
And not the kind of sweeping where you tidy your back deck before hosting a barbecue. You know, just a quick few sweeps, getting the grass clippings and stray leaves out of the way.
No, I mean the kind of sweeping where you move all the furniture to the middle of the room and really get into the untouched areas of the home. Haul all the dusty boxes and old Christmas decorations and outgrown baby clothes from the attic. Move the refrigerator from the wall and scrub years of grime off the floor. Get out the wet vac and finally work out those stains from the carpet. Really get in there and clean out the corners of your home that have been neglected for decades.
After 24 years, it’s time for the Nashville Predators to move on from David Poile as their General Manager.
David Poile’s track record has caught up to him
I do not take voicing this opinion lightly. It’s an opinion and a subject I take seriously. Considering the gravity that Poile has in the Preds universe, considering his historical importance to the franchise, and considering the franchise has never had another GM at its helm besides him, it’s impossible to ignore how massive a move this would be.
There are far too many people who jump to “fire David Poile” hot takes when it doesn’t really make sense. When the team loses a Thursday night game in December or even when the team just doesn’t look great on the ice despite a win. Hearing these sorts of torch-fork reactions so many times over the years tends to water down the message, especially when such a move would be more appropriate after one the franchise’s many disappointments.
Not getting past the 2nd round in the Presidents’ Trophy year in 2018. Not getting past the first round in 2019, despite “keeping the band together” that previous summer. Firing a coach like Peter Laviolette mid-season and hiring a young coach with potential, but not one that gets immediate results. Watching players you’ve traded away become super stars on other teams. And overall, a marked descent into a “making the playoffs is good enough” mindset after the thrilling 2017 Cup run.
But, honestly? None of those should really be enough to require a management change. Those are disappointments, yes, and I will go into more of them in detail.
I’ve talked about this before, but tracking general manager performance should be like tracking one’s financial health. If you are keeping score on GMs, you should give credit to “the hits” and debits to “the misses.” If your GM has more hits than misses, more credits than debits, they deserve to stay in the job.
Those disappointments I listed above (and more that I will cover later) are all misses, and they are pretty big ones, but up until this May, David Poile had more hits than misses.
What we saw unfold this past week is the transaction that tips David Poile’s balance sheet into the red.
Poile’s prospect development inconsistent & incomplete
The Nashville Predators, as a farm of hockey talent, are an average team. That’s not to say they’ve never produced talent. Just that the overall prospect development has, when you consider all the factors, only been an average team.
This is mostly because while they’ve produced many great defensemen and goaltenders, they have yet to develop (and keep) forwards with any consistency.
In 24 plus years as a franchise, the Preds have become a blueline incubator. Kimmo Timonen, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, and Mattias Ekholm are the main hits. Currently, Dante Fabbro, Alex Carrier, Jeremy Davies, and David Farrance look promising as young defensemen. David Poile gets credit for that, full stop. He’s committed to finding great young defensmen and developing them into NHL players.
He gets even more credit for the goaltending production. Between Tomas Vokoun, Pekka Rinne, and Juuse Saros alone, David Poile should go into the Goaltender Development Hall of Fame, if such a thing existed. I don’t think you can find a current GM in the NHL that has developed better goaltending talent in the league.
But the forward development has been a real detriment. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Alexander Radulov, and probably Craig Smith are clear hits. There’s dozens of other failed projects that have either not turned into top scoring talent or have been traded away for minimal return. But perhaps the biggest issue is how David Poile seems to treat forwards as just secondary defensemen, always leaning towards the “big bodied” physical forward with a defensive lean in his game, as opposed to the high ceiling, top end skill player that can become a 40-goal scorer if given the time.
The successful forwards the Preds have successfully graduated from draft pick to NHL player are not terrible. Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin, Austin Watson, Colin Wilson, Tanner Jeannot, and a few others, they are good NHL players. But not great ones. And they all share the same “low ceiling”, high energy, character guys that the locker room loves, but that aren’t going to wow you with individual talent. In short, they can’t do anything like what half the Colorado Avalanche forwards were doing in their short series with Nashville this past week.
The inability to consistently churn out forwards that can put the puck in the net every year has been an issue for David Poile for a long time. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Preds’ asset management treading water, rather than setting trends
For several years, the Nashville Predators were a trend-setter in the NHL. In the mid to late 2000s, they were part of a movement to commit to taller, athletic, European goalies. Guys like Vokoun and Rinne emerging at the same time as Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is no coincidence. Then there’s the movement to stock your roster with puck moving defensemen, initiated directly by the Preds during their 2017 Stanley Cup playoff run.
But recently, the Preds have been treading water when it comes to asset management. They are chasing the trends, rather than setting them.
When they couldn’t develop a 2nd line center in 2017, they tried to trade for one in Kyle Turris, giving up at least one major asset in Samuel Girard. That didn’t work out.
When they couldn’t develop Kevin Fiala into the star they thought he could be, they traded him away for an older, more developed forward in Mikael Granlund. While Granlund has been fine, he hasn’t been close to the super star Fiala has been in Minnesota.
When they couldn’t find any scoring in their lineup, they had to move huge contracts to find it. Trading P.K. Subban in 2019 in order to sign Matt Duchene to the largest contract in franchise history showed as much as anything that David Poile has been trying to throw money at a problem for many years now.
When they saw the writing on the wall regarding upcoming contracts with Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg, they had to move Ryan Ellis to Philadelphia, getting a minimal return comparatively. David Poile not only betrayed his own financial discipline with this move, he betrayed Ryan Ellis, who made it very clear all he wanted was to sign in Nashville and not get traded.
That’s to say nothing of other trades that have just not worked out. Sending a 1st round pick for Ryan Hartman, then trading him for Wayne Simmonds (who did very little in Nashville), and now he’s also playing great in Minnesota. Sending 2nd and 3rd round picks for questionable acquisitions like Luke Kunin, Alexei Emelin, Brian Boyle, and Jeremy Lauzon. Not moving key expiring players at the trade deadline in the name of “we are still in the playoff race.”
And then there’s the upcoming Filip Forsberg situation, which took a bad turn on Monday after the game, with Filip Forsberg taking an extra lap around the ice after the game.
The noise from Forsberg’s camp has been quiet, which is not usually a good sign for negotiations. But those extra few strides around the ice for Forsberg? That’s really not a good sign.
That looks like a guy who is ready to move on.
And who could blame him?
Losing Filip Forsberg, the team’s all time leading scoring in both the regular season and the postseason, would be another massive debit on David Poile’s ledger.
Vibrant fan base grown stale, needs new direction
It’s only been five years since the Predators made their thrilling run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
But given the current atmosphere and vibe of the fanbase, it might as well have been fifty years.
Saturday’s Game 3 against Colorado saw more than usual empty seats at puck drop. There were possibly some external reasons for that (tech issues with ticket entry, traffic due to the Vice President being in town, etc.) but it was the first time I’d seen a real lack of volume and energy at the beginning of a Preds playoff game.
Monday’s Game 4 was better at puck drop, but still not quite 100%. In years past, the Smashville faithful were roaring and ready to go for the introduction of the team. No amount of traffic kept them away from the hype.
In short, the Nashville Predators are no longer the hot ticket that they were. The home barn is full, most of the time, but there’s still an element of the energy missing. The fans are not as into the game as they once were, though there’s many reasons for that. Many of the “lifers” have been priced out of the building, replaced with out-of-towners, lower Broad fanatics, and corporate seat fillers.
There are plenty of rabid, enthusiastic fans left in the building. But even they seem tired with the gimmick. The same intro music, the same chants, the same in between entertainment, all culminating in the same results on the ice. The only thing that’s not the same are the ticket prices, which have gone up. The genuine hockey fans in the building (i.e., not the ones who stumble into the building as part of their extended weekend in Music City) seem to be craving something new.
David Poile not being in charge of the team anymore would be a massive change that could satisfy that craving.
David Poile era needs to end
It comes down to more misses than hits, more debits than credits for David Poile at this point. He is no longer a general manager that can manage a hockey team to success in this league and the team needs to move on.
New blood, new ideas, and a more modern take on managing an NHL roster. This might mean a complete clean-out of the front office and, consequently, the coaching staff. Personally, I like John Hynes as a coach. He has a contemporary approach on coaching young men in the competitive arena and seems very focused on wrangling the mental side of the game before the physical side of the game. That’s a very solid approach.
But if Poile goes, Hynes, whose contract expires at the end of this year, will probably be gone as well. The new general manager should get to choose his head coach.
Finally, it’s no secret that Predators’ ownership thinks the world of David Poile. They are not likely to fire David Poile, unless they have a change of heart. It might be that Poile decides he is no longer fit to run the team and goes to them with a resignation. Or perhaps, like Adam Vingan of The Athletic wrote, one member of the team’s ownership group will step forward and take action.
It has been reported that Poile’s contract has an “automatic renewal” at the end of each season, which is something you just don’t see often in modern sports.
It’s a setup that, for David Poile, must be pretty nice. Especially because more and more Preds fans do not seem to be automatically renewing their support of the team every year.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —