It was an emotional day in Nashville on April 14th when Predators GM David Poile announced that long-time Head Coach Barry Trotz had been relieved of his coaching duties. It truly marked the end of an era in Nashville hockey. Trotz was the only coach that the Predators have ever known. It will be strange to see someone new behind the bench next year.
That being said, it was absolutely right to make a change. Trotz’s brand of gritty, defense-first hockey grew stale and boring to watch. Preds fans are craving a team that plays up-to-speed with today’s offense-first NHL. They got what they wished for on May 6th with the hiring of Peter Laviolette. He will bring the offense-first system that the Predators need. The framework is there.
All this begs the question: with all these changes, where does David Poile fit in?
Many people were surprised to see that Poile was not let go along with Trotz. Many people are still calling for Poile’s job. It seemed like the two were a package deal. Poile made some strong statements in a press conference about a new direction for the franchise. But, can he deliver it?
First, let’s look at why Poile is not the right fit for the “New Predators.” He is a proponent of the “Predator Way” that has defined the first 15 years of the Predators. This is evident in the free agents he has signed and the rookies he has drafted. He somewhat botched the 2012 off-season (whether or not Ryan Suter actually “lied to him” we will never truly know). Then, of course, there’s Alexander Radulov (although I will give Poile the benefit of the doubt there).
He shelled out a ton of money for three forwards, Eric Nystrom, Viktor Stalberg, and Matt Hendricks, in the 2013 off-season. The results: one played a pretty solid season, one scored just eight goals, and got traded to Edmonton. That’s not exactly what Poile envisioned. He also seemed to come out on the losing end of a few trades he made this season. Devan Dubnyk was a disaster and Michael Del Zotto didn’t live up to his potential (he may deserve another chance, however).
Next, let’s examine what Poile has done right. First and foremost, he kept Shea Weber in Nashville. If he hadn’t matched his offer sheet in 2012, he would have set the franchise back about five years. He has many connections in the hockey world. He is GM of Team USA, which means he has an established relationship with a few key players that could be available July 1st (namely Paul Stastny). The Team USA connection cannot be underscored. He has also made a couple of outstanding trades that have helped the Predators plan for the future. The trades for Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok were gems for Poile. He acquired two fantastic young forwards who are probably ready for a full season at the NHL level in 2014-15. He also has a bunch of other promising youngsters that could see more NHL-level time, like Watson, Beck, Moser, Sissons, and Salomaki. Finally, he was able to recruit a great coach in Peter Laviolette.
There is another big question here: does the “Predator Way” leave with Barry Trotz? One would think that is the case, as the GM of any team should draft players that fit a coach’s system. But, we will have to see what Poile does this off-season.
To fire Poile now would be illogical. He has one year remaining on his contract, and has done plenty of valuable things for the franchise. We have not seen how Poile will operate without Barry Trotz behind the bench. With a new coach in Peter Laviolette and a new system, we need to wait and see what he can do. However, this upcoming year is make-or-break for Poile. He needs to be sure he signs the right people, and makes all the right decisions. If he signs some prized free agents, and sees guys like Forsberg and Jarnkrok have breakout years, then he deserves to stay. If he does not live up to his message of change for the franchise, however, he should absolutely be let go after this season.