David Poile must get mad sometimes. He’s far too invested in his job as Nashville Predators GM and the pursuit of his first Stanley Cup to maintain his famously placid demeanour behind every closed door.
That said, the only form of outrage I can confirm has spilled from Poile is of the mock variety. It happened last year, when I visited his office halfway through the Preds’ playoff run. Nashville’s success was a jumping off point to examine Poile’s entire 35-year journey as a general manager, and I was just gingerly bringing up that reputation he has as whatever the antithesis of wheeler-dealer is when he sniffed out the line of questioning and threw his hands up in pretend anger: “I’ve made more trades than any GM in history!”
I knew, in reality, that Poile’s fingerprints were all over some of the biggest transactions of the past three decades. For a long time, though it was hard to square that fact with the staid manner that colours his daily business. We all know lifeguards are fantastic swimmers, but most of the time, we just see them up there relaxing on that chair.
However, any lingering notion about Poile’s reluctance to plunge into the deep end should be exploded after the 67-year-old was involved in a massive deal for the third time in roughly 24 months. By acquiring Kyle Turris in the three-way swap that sent Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators and a bunch of stuff that hasn’t happened yet to the Colorado Avalanche, Poile has signalled to the world that Nashville will once again be a player in the West.
And don’t expect that fact to change any time soon.
Debating who won a hockey trade requires more context than is often provided in those conversations. Sure, Ottawa ended up with the best player, but it paid a hefty — not unreasonable, but hefty — price to get him. Colorado got a raft full of futures, a nice score for a rebuilding team. The reason I love the trade for the Preds, though, is they added a quality player at a prime position without surrendering anything that has the potential to truly haunt the club.
Nashville gave up a 2018 second-round pick, 19-year-old defenceman Samuel Girard and 21-year-old forward Vladislav Kamenev to get a 28-year-old, right-shot centre who scored 27 goals last season and will be with the club for six years beyond this one. Even in the odds-defying event that both Girard and Kamenev become high-end NHLers, there’s still zero skin peeled from the Predators’ back.
Will running out a blue line top four of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm be any less awesome just because Girard is playing 20 minutes a night in Colorado? If Kamenev becomes a 20-goal man, he’d be welcome on any team. Still, when you heist Filip Forsberg from the Washington Capitals and find Viktor Arvidsson in the fourth round, your flanks are going to be just fine.
Where Nashville required help was up the middle, a fact that became painfully clear when Ryan Johansen was knocked out of the playoffs with a thigh injury in the West final last spring. Johansen, of course, was involved in the first mega-trade of the recent Preds past, coming to Tennessee from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenceman Seth Jones in a January, 2016 one-for-one.
Sixth months later, Poile flipped Shea Weber for P.K. Subban. The inking of free agent Nick Bonino last summer didn’t upend anybody’s world, but it was another step to solidifying a centre situation that had long been a sore spot for the Predators.
Combine that roster-building with an enviable payroll situation and you start to understand why Nashville is sitting so pretty. Not one front-line player is set to become a free agent of any kind until the summer of 2019, and even if you don’t love Subban and Johansen long-term at $9 million and $8 million, respectively, against the cap each year, it’s a lot easier to swallow when Josi, Ekholm and Ellis combine to count just $10 million and change against the annual ceiling.
The Preds’ ascension coincides with a post-sure thing world in the West, where the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings used to have complete domain, but are now just two of a few really good teams with an opportunity to separate themselves from the pack come April and May. If Nashville’s goaltending holds up, its chances to be that Western club left standing might be stronger than anybody’s.
Maybe Poile has nothing to be bothered about after all.