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Q&A: General Manager David Poile

Monday, 10.10.2005 / 9:38 AM / News
Nashville Predators
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Q&A: General Manager David Poile

David Poile has been a busy man over the past two and a half months. With his summer business as Predators general manager put on hold by the league's labor negotiations, he was forced to compress five months' worth of work into a 10-week window once the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was signed in July. Now, with new free-agent signings in the fold, all of his key returning players inked to deals, and a revised rulebook in place that he helped craft as a member of the league's Competition Committee, Poile took a well-deserved breather to share his thoughts on all the recent activities.

Q: What is it like to be a part of the Competition Committee, and do you consider yourself progressive or traditional when it comes to rule changes?

David Poile: I've been in the game for a long time, so I probably consider myself to be a traditionalist. Having said that, I'm very much in favor of all of the changes that we've made with the competition committee to open up the game, to reward skill and speed and punish interference, hooking, holding and any other forms of obstruction. From that standpoint, I believe the game needed to be tweaked, if you will.

The Competition Committee was terrific. Being there with both managers and players was a unique situation, especially in the lockout when we were really on opposite sides of the table. But it was very apparent very quickly that the players were almost in total agreement with us and vice versa as to what needed to be done. We've been criticized in the past when we've attempted to make rule changes or to reduce obstruction, in that it never held up. Whether it's the referees' fault or the players' fault or the coaches' and managers' it doesn't really matter at this point, but all I can tell you is we are totally unified. I think one of the reasons that we are unified is because of this Competition Committee, where you had players that had clear input into this. They want these changes as much as management does. When you have two sides that want the same thing it's going to work.

Q: Are there any other rule changes that you are a proponent of, but that haven't been instituted?

DP: One of the things we took a long hard look at was whether we should change the nets. The nets have always been the same size since the game was invented: 4 feet by 6 feet. However, when you look at how the game and the position of goal have evolved over the years, goaltenders were oftentimes your smaller athletes. The position has totally changed. In the so-called old days, the position was a stand-up situation; you never went down. Now it's more in this butterfly style. The goaltenders have gotten bigger obviously. A lot of times they are your biggest player or your best athlete. The equipment has certainly gotten bigger over the years, and I think that possibly, there might be a time and a place to expand the net. I know that's probably not necessarily a popular decision, for sure, for goaltenders or traditionalists in the game. The goaltenders might have outgrown and outperformed the size of the net.

Q: Could you discuss that first week in August, when this summer's especially plentiful free-agency period began?

DP: The most interesting things were A) a little bit of surprise by some agents that I called, because Nashville was now a player in the free-agent market, and B) there was initially a little bit of a lack of respect that we had when we'd call them. Meaning, a lot of people just didn't know a lot about Nashville as a hockey team or a city or a destination where players would want to play. A lot of our job was really selling ourselves to these agents that we normally hadn't been talking to about these high-profile players.

Q: Are you on the phone all day during a week like that?

DP: Mostly. It's not like you're going after 100 players. Basically we had a small list of players that were looking at, and you make those calls. As we saw during the first day or two or three, I'd say that most of these guys that we had any interest in were signed right away. I think the Kariya thing took longer because he was A) maybe caught off guard that Nashville was interested, and B) more importantly, he did his homework, whether it be a Nashville or any other teams. It was a great exercise in terms of the thoroughness of how you go about making a decision.

The other thing that happened was that on the second morning, we made the deal right away for Danny Markov. By the second day of free agency we really solidified our defense. What we were looking for was that grittier player. Again, we were thinking free agent, free agent, and all of the sudden it's a trade. The bottom line was we were totally prepared for it. Even though we didn't have Danny Markov on any list, through our scouting and our knowledge in the past, he was a guy that fit exactly with what we wanted. He was as good, maybe better than a free agent, because it was a trade and he's a signed player. So we were already happy with our goaltending. That took care of our defense. And we knew salary-wise, budget-wise, we had room to try to sign one forward. Kariya was our guy that we were going for from day one.

Q: Could you still start an expansion team using the same blueprint that you used to build the Predatorsbuilding through the draft?

DP: Under this new system, with so much free agency, you really could probably go in a different route and arguably you could be more competitive sooner. You could spend to a higher level and you could probably attract more high-level players than maybe we could or even tried to do when we came into Nashville. I think with this new system, it's not a level playing field but it's more of a level playing field, and because of that I think all managers have almost the same tools to deal with. In other words, there are trades, there's free agency, and then there's the Entry Draft. All managers now have those at their disposal because of the playing field, and the fact that the dollars that are going to be spent toward salaries are somewhat even.

In our game plan with Nashville, we're a small market with smaller revenues and thus a smaller budget. We carved out our niche through the Entry Draft. For lack of a better way of saying it, we made a lot of transactions taking a step backward to hopefully take a couple of steps forward. We oftentimes traded assets of older, more veteran players that still had some time left, but we tried to get full value for them to get a younger player or draft pick, knowing that in two or three years, if we make the right decision, those younger players would be better than that veteran player who might be finished at that time. That's probably the biggest difference.

Q: Are draft picks still worth what they were worth a year ago?

DP: I think we've got to find out all of that. It's a good question, just like should you have more emphasis on amateur scouting with the younger guys or pro scouting because you're going to be able to make more trades and sign more free agents. I think the answer lies in the club that's prepared in all areas. They'll be the most successful. I can envision signing more free agents. I can envision making more trades. I can envision having salary cap problems where you have to make decisions on current players, and you'll have to let somebody go, trade somebody, not qualify somebody. Thus, if you don't have your pipeline of younger players coming in you won't be able to replace those guys. You're going to need lower-salaried, younger guys to come in to replace higher-salary guys because there will be certain factors driving you to the cap. I think we're going to be dealing with all of those situations.

I told our scouts at training camp, I think they're job is even more important than it's ever been before. The team that can uncover younger players and draft well will be giving its management assets either to put in the lineup or to make deals with. Your currency is your asset value of your players, and that's working against what you can do in a cap situation. History has shown us in other sports where teams have been tremendously successful one year but because of the cap problems, they have had to rid themselves of salaries and have taken their team way down in the standings. The trick for us in the NHL now is to be able to handle all those situations so you can have as consistently a competitive team as possible year after year.

Q: When it comes to building and developing the Predators, does 2005 mark a shift in your approach?

DP: Philosophically, our scope is broadened a little bit in how we will build this team on a year-by-year basis. It was almost like we had blinders on in terms of being open to any considerations other than the Entry Draft and eventually trading off veteran players to go with younger players—always trying to get younger every year. That was the way we tried to run this franchise in the first six years. Now, we've got a good balance between younger and older players. There's a new CBA that allows us to participate in free agency. I think we have more avenues for how to build a team right now.

Q: Do you look to build your team more with the Division in mind, now with the division-weighted schedule?

DP: There will be no such thing as success this year unless we are competitive in our division. We're playing eight times each against Detroit, Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis. If we cannot win and be over .500 in those games, then there's no success, there's no playoffs, how we built our team will have to be adjusted. Because of the unbalanced schedule, it all starts with how competitive we are in our division. Those are the teams that we have to beat.

David Poile has been a busy man over the past two and a half months. With his summer business as Predators general manager put on hold by the league's labor negotiations, he was forced to compress five months' worth of work into a 10-week window once the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was signed in July. Now, with new free-agent signings in the fold, all of his key returning players inked to deals, and a revised rulebook in place that he helped craft as a member of the league's Competition Committee, Poile took a well-deserved breather to share his thoughts on all the recent activities.

Q: What is it like to be a part of the Competition Committee, and do you consider yourself progressive or traditional when it comes to rule changes?

DP: I've been in the game for a long time, so I probably consider myself to be a traditionalist. Having said that, I'm very much in favor of all of the changes that we've made with the competition committee to open up the game, to reward skill and speed and punish interference, hooking, holding and any other forms of obstruction. From that standpoint, I believe the game needed to be tweaked, if you will.

The Competition Committee was terrific. Being there with both managers and players was a unique situation, especially in the lockout when we were really on opposite sides of the table. But it was very apparent very quickly that the players were almost in total agreement with us and vice versa as to what needed to be done. We've been criticized in the past when we've attempted to make rule changes or to reduce obstruction, in that it never held up. Whether it's the referees' fault or the players' fault or the coaches' and managers' it doesn't really matter at this point, but all I can tell you is we are totally unified. I think one of the reasons that we are unified is because of this Competition Committee, where you had players that had clear input into this. They want these changes as much as management does. When you have two sides that want the same thing it's going to work.

Q: Are there any other rule changes that you are a proponent of, but that haven't been instituted?

DP: One of the things we took a long hard look at was whether we should change the nets. The nets have always been the same size since the game was invented: 4 feet by 6 feet. However, when you look at how the game and the position of goal have evolved over the years, goaltenders were oftentimes your smaller athletes. The position has totally changed. In the so-called old days, the position was a stand-up situation; you never went down. Now it's more in this butterfly style. The goaltenders have gotten bigger obviously. A lot of times they are your biggest player or your best athlete. The equipment has certainly gotten bigger over the years, and I think that possibly, there might be a time and a place to expand the net. I know that's probably not necessarily a popular decision, for sure, for goaltenders or traditionalists in the game. The goaltenders might have outgrown and outperformed the size of the net.

Q: Could you discuss that first week in August, when this summer's especially plentiful free-agency period began?

DP: The most interesting things were A) a little bit of surprise by some agents that I called, because Nashville was now a player in the free-agent market, and B) there was initially a little bit of a lack of respect that we had when we'd call them. Meaning, a lot of people just didn't know a lot about Nashville as a hockey team or a city or a destination where players would want to play. A lot of our job was really selling ourselves to these agents that we normally hadn't been talking to about these high-profile players.

Q: Are you on the phone all day during a week like that?

DP: Mostly. It's not like you're going after 100 players. Basically we had a small list of players that were looking at, and you make those calls. As we saw during the first day or two or three, I'd say that most of these guys that we had any interest in were signed right away. I think the Kariya thing took longer because he was A) maybe caught off guard that Nashville was interested, and B) more importantly, he did his homework, whether it be a Nashville or any other teams. It was a great exercise in terms of the thoroughness of how you go about making a decision.

The other thing that happened was that on the second morning, we made the deal right away for Danny Markov. By the second day of free agency we really solidified our defense. What we were looking for was that grittier player. Again, we were thinking free agent, free agent, and all of the sudden it's a trade. The bottom line was we were totally prepared for it. Even though we didn't have Danny Markov on any list, through our scouting and our knowledge in the past, he was a guy that fit exactly with what we wanted. He was as good, maybe better than a free agent, because it was a trade and he's a signed player. So we were already happy with our goaltending. That took care of our defense. And we knew salary-wise, budget-wise, we had room to try to sign one forward. Kariya was our guy that we were going for from day one.

Q: Could you still start an expansion team using the same blueprint that you used to build the Predatorsbuilding through the draft?

DP: Under this new system, with so much free agency, you really could probably go in a different route and arguably you could be more competitive sooner. You could spend to a higher level and you could probably attract more high-level players than maybe we could or even tried to do when we came into Nashville. I think with this new system, it's not a level playing field but it's more of a level playing field, and because of that I think all managers have almost the same tools to deal with. In other words, there are trades, there's free agency, and then there's the Entry Draft. All managers now have those at their disposal because of the playing field, and the fact that the dollars that are going to be spent toward salaries are somewhat even.

In our game plan with Nashville, we're a small market with smaller revenues and thus a smaller budget. We carved out our niche through the Entry Draft. For lack of a better way of saying it, we made a lot of transactions taking a step backward to hopefully take a couple of steps forward. We oftentimes traded assets of older, more veteran players that still had some time left, but we tried to get full value for them to get a younger player or draft pick, knowing that in two or three years, if we make the right decision, those younger players would be better than that veteran player who might be finished at that time. That's probably the biggest difference.

Q: Are draft picks still worth what they were worth a year ago?

DP: I think we've got to find out all of that. It's a good question, just like should you have more emphasis on amateur scouting with the younger guys or pro scouting because you're going to be able to make more trades and sign more free agents. I think the answer lies in the club that's prepared in all areas. They'll be the most successful. I can envision signing more free agents. I can envision making more trades. I can envision having salary cap problems where you have to make decisions on current players, and you'll have to let somebody go, trade somebody, not qualify somebody. Thus, if you don't have your pipeline of younger players coming in you won't be able to replace those guys. You're going to need lower-salaried, younger guys to come in to replace higher-salary guys because there will be certain factors driving you to the cap. I think we're going to be dealing with all of those situations.

I told our scouts at training camp, I think they're job is even more important than it's ever been before. The team that can uncover younger players and draft well will be giving its management assets either to put in the lineup or to make deals with. Your currency is your asset value of your players, and that's working against what you can do in a cap situation. History has shown us in other sports where teams have been tremendously successful one year but because of the cap problems, they have had to rid themselves of salaries and have taken their team way down in the standings. The trick for us in the NHL now is to be able to handle all those situations so you can have as consistently a competitive team as possible year after year.

Q: When it comes to building and developing the Predators, does 2005 mark a shift in your approach?

DP: Philosophically, our scope is broadened a little bit in how we will build this team on a year-by-year basis. It was almost like we had blinders on in terms of being open to any considerations other than the Entry Draft and eventually trading off veteran players to go with younger players' always trying to get younger every year. That was the way we tried to run this franchise in the first six years. Now, we've got a good balance between younger and older players. There's a new CBA that allows us to participate in free agency. I think we have more avenues for how to build a team right now.

Q: Do you look to build your team more with the Division in mind, now with the division-weighted schedule?

DP: There will be no such thing as success this year unless we are competitive in our division. We're playing eight times each against Detroit, Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis. If we cannot win and be over .500 in those games, then there's no success, there's no playoffs, how we built our team will have to be adjusted. Because of the unbalanced schedule, it all starts with how competitive we are in our division. Those are the teams that we have to beat.

Q: What are your thoughts on the perception of Nashville by the hockey world? Do you think that Nashvillethe market and the teamare misunderstood?

DP: I think we're a little bit like the Rodney Dangerfield of hockey. I think that we're not known enough. We don't have enough history. We don't have enough exposure. We play an unbalanced schedule in the National Hockey League, so we're not playing in a lot of the big Canadian markets like Montreal or Toronto very much. As an expansion team I think you're easy to disregard, if you will. I do, however, think making the playoffs in 2003-04 was a step in the right direction. I think the changes in the rules favor our team. I think signing a high-profile free agent like Paul Kariya is going to bring more attention to Nashville. I think we've already seen this in some of the articles. The real bottom line is if we move along and be more competitive in the National Hockey League, we're going to get that recognition and respect in the league.

 

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