“I’m sorry that we haven’t won,” David Poile said to the gathered media on Thursday, speaking indirectly to the Nashville Predators fanbase.
“I want to win so badly, but we’re trying” he added. “I think we’re on the right track.”
The apology came about 40 minutes into a lengthy explanation of his own efforts to guide the Preds in a “competitive rebuild” this season. It also came after a measured announcement of John Hynes’ two year extension as head coach.
The tenor of the conference was not unlike what we’ve seen in the past: a detailed list of all the accomplishments the team can hang their hat on from the previous year, a smaller list of the team’s failures and shortcomings in the NHL playoffs, and a consistent “we are going to do the things we need to improve this team” tone.
Seriously, you could pull up the end of season press conferences from 2018, 2019, 2020, or 2021 and you’d hear some of the same phrasings, the same metered tone, and the same rhetorical defense of the direction the franchise is headed.
David Poile cites making playoffs for eighth consecutive year as a point of pride for this year. Also the "no one picked us to make the playoffs" and "winning culture" behind John Hynes.— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) May 19, 2022
“This year we made progress, but by no means are satisfied,” Poile began, latter adding: “It’s hard to win in the NHL playoffs. And that’s not an excuse, that’s the reality.”
Citing the Preds’ inability to win a single game against the Colorado Avalanche, Poile admitted that the team is more than just “one or two players away” from competing in the playoffs.
“Our task now is to build on the culture and work ethic and improve on our talent level.”
Poile defends Hynes’ performance, but criticizes himself
If there was anything different about this year’s end of season remarks, it was the extent to which David Poile blamed himself, while at the same time propping up John Hynes for his job at the helm.
After announcing that Hynes has been signed to a two-year contract extension, Poile heaped praise on Hynes for the job he did at managing a team with such little expectations.
“John Hynes is a young coach who hasn’t been dealt a perfect hand and I’m responsible for that.”
Poile’s attempt at a “competitive rebuild” this year has left many wondering if the team accomplished either side of that coin. Were they competitive? No, at least not in the playoffs, when competing matters the most. Did they rebuild? Only slightly. They did get full years out of Philip Tomasino and Alex Carrier, but they didn’t re-stock their farm system with prospects during the season, and they ended the season with fewer draft picks than they started (they traded a 2nd round pick for Jeremy Lauzon in March).
Those are all decisions (or non-decisions) made by David Poile. Only he is responsible for those.
“I’m responsible. I haven’t given [Hynes] enough to be winning.”
But as noble as it is for Poile to take the blame for the team’s lack of success, there was also a suggestion that team ownership seems completely satisfied with the performance of their general manager.
Then adds that the team did not have that identity in the playoffs. "We didn't get to our game good enough in the playoffs. Some of that's on Colorado, and some of that is on me." https://t.co/xjBGtJgZ8A— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) May 19, 2022
Poile indicated that he’d talked with Sean Henry, CEO and President of the Nashville Predators, multiple times over the last 10 days. According to Poile, he still has “full support” from Henry and the team’s owners. He also mentioned that he’s under no budgetary constraints to sign players this offseason.
Speaking of signing players, Filip Forsberg was mentioned a few times.
Filip Forsberg still unsigned, Poile thinking “Plan B” at this point
Not that it was expected, but David Poile did not announce a contract extension for Filip Forsberg at this press conference. He also did not go into great detail about where negotiations were at, other than to give this legalistic response to the situation.
“We are putting all of our efforts right now into this next month or so to execute on that. Discussions with Filip during the year and discussions with Filip after the playoffs, all point to him wanting him to stay here. We have clearly conveyed that we want him, and that’s a huge part of that. But I realize that he’s earned that right, to become a free agent. We’re just going to have to work with that.
Without getting into too much detail, I would hope that you would think and believe that we have plan B, C, and D, if this was not to work. But for today, and for the next month or as long as it takes, we’re going to concentrate on getting Filip signed.”
David Poile with more comments on Filip Forsberg situation. Very interesting when he mentions “plan B, C, and D” here… pic.twitter.com/3hQeRdlZOq— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) May 19, 2022
At the end of the season player availability, Filip Forsberg seemed to suggest that he’s still interested in coming back to Nashville. But his post-game solo skate after the Game 4 loss still lingers in the minds of many. Does he already know he’s moving on? Is his “I would love to be back in Nashville” mantra just a public relations move?
It’s difficult to say, but I will add this: the fact that David Poile is mentioning a “Plan B” (and “Plan C” and “Plan D”) indicates they are starting to have doubts. Prior to Thursday’s remarks, Poile has only ever talked about how much they want to sign Forsberg, or “Plan A” as it were. Now he’s indicating a “Plan B” could be in the works.
For Preds fans that want Filip Forsberg re-signed, this is more evidence that it might not happen. As Poile said, the next month will be the final opportunity to get a deal done. Things to do not look promising on that front.
Poile doesn’t see any change in fanbase attitudes about team
There’s been a growing sentiment in the Preds’ fanbase that the general energy and enthusiasm for the team is not what it once was.
Anyone who attended Games 3 and 4 against Colorado could admit that the atmosphere was muted, with more empty seats than usual for a playoff game and a sense of “doom” around a series that seemed over before it started.
On top of that, there’s been growing frustrating in the direction of the team since the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Since that remarkable season, the team has declined in postseason success: a second-round exit in 2018, first-round exits in 2019, 2020, and 2021, and then the team’s first ever winless playoff series effort in 2022.
But to David Poile, he doesn’t see any change in the fanbase support or attitudes about the team.
“I have never… that word, that thought has never entered my mind. That there’s apathy with our fans,” Poile said. “Our fans are fantastic. I am so proud of this organization, our growth, all the stuff that’s happening here. I would cheer for our team.”
When asked later to clarify on this point, specifically if he’d seen any difference between the home crowd at Bridgestone Arena in the playoffs this year as compared to previous years, Poile explained that the team didn’t give them much to cheer for.
“We were so outmatched and the games were fairly one-sided,” Poile said. “If I’m a fan, I think it was hard to sustain that [energy]… I thought everybody was energized, but we didn’t give them a lot to cheer for.”
Pushed further, Poile was asked about fans on Twitter increasingly growing frustrated in the team’s performance.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what that means. Like you’re on Twitter, I’m not on Twitter. I have an opinion, you have an opinion. You’re showing your opinion, then you’re interacting with people, I’m not doing any of that.”
Poile had plenty more to say about the effect of Twitter on the pulse of the fanbase, inasmuch as it has changed the discourse of the team’s perception in the last ten years.
“I don’t know [who I am being judged by],” Poile added. “It could be some guy in Alaska. It could be some 10-year-old kid. It’s like we talk about all these things that are going on, and it’s so powerful. You say something and it’s an opinion, and all these people… who are these people?”
“If you’re telling me we’ve got 6,000 people showing up for a game, then I think we have a problem with apathy. I don’t see that, I think we and every team in the league has been through a tough few years and there’s a lot of necessary rebuilding of your fanbase, your sponsors and all those things. I would assume strongly that there’s fans that we’ve had that are no longer coming to hockey games. And I don’t think it has anything to do with apathy. It’s just a change in their lifestyle.”
“Ten years ago,” Poile added, “none of this would be talked about. And that’s a good and a bad thing… because we weren’t relevant. It was the offseason and you guys [media] had more to do. We weren’t as important a part of Nashville, there weren’t as many people that cared, so the apathy part, I think there’s so many people that care, you get emotional for your team that you’re cheering for. So, if we’re not as successful as you think we should be, you’re saying it now. Getting it out there [on Twitter]. But I think the thing is there’s a lot of ‘care’ out there. I might not exactly like what you are saying or somebody’s responding to, but people are caring. We just weren’t as relevant ten years ago.”
Poile seems quite confident that he still has the trust and support of the fanbase overall. To use his own standard, unless fan attendance at home games drops dramatically, he and the front office are going to assume the fans are just as avid as they’ve ever been.
It’s true that most people overstate the impact Twitter has on the sports world (and the world in general, for that matter). But it could be the “canary in the coal mine” for general disillusionment. Twitter fans often carry ephemeral attitudes about their sports teams that keen eyed general managers might catch onto, and perhaps make important decisions before it’s too late. We’ve already seen that kind of thing happen here in our own state with the Tennessee Vols. Hashtags and viral tweets aren’t just in a vacuum these days, sometimes they can lead to real change, even in the sports world. Twitter is what ended the Greg Schiano coaching era in Knoxville before it even started. And remember when fan attitudes about a draft pick by the Coyotes caused almost immediate front office reaction in Arizona?
But based on David Poile’s remarks, Twitter fans, as angry as they might be, are not the bell-weather for fan apathy in his eyes. Only a drop in fan attendance (aka revenue) could cause alarm for him.
As it happens, given the stagnant nature of this team and the continued decline in success on the ice, perhaps David Poile will be around long enough to see that apathy manifest.