MANALAPAN, FLA.— No one in attendance would’ve been better suited than David Poile to explain why Day 1 of the NHL general manager meetings in sunny Florida generated little in the way of news.
“I really find that, as the caretakers of the game,” Poile started after the first three-hour meeting of three scheduled for the week, “we’re more tweaking the game and there’s not those big, huge topics at the moment.”
The longest-tenured GM in NHL history has been at these meetings for over four decades, he’s played a monumental role in some of the biggest shifts we’ve seen emanating from them—he ranked the institution of video replay in the early 1990s as perhaps the biggest one he had a hand in—and he feels hockey is “in such good shape” at the moment that not much needs to change.
Poile and the other 31 GMs on hand did, however, discuss some tweaks that could be on the horizon.
They broke into smaller groups and discussed a potential expansion of video review pertaining to ensuring a high-sticking call or puck-over-glass penalty is merited, and they talked about what could be done to curb fighting after clean hits.
There was discussion about meeting with the NHLPA to potentially grandfather in cut-resistant equipment as mandatory following a surge in horrifying incidents—from the one earlier this season involving Evander Kane’s wrist to the one late last week involving Tyler Seguin’s knee—as well.
But neither Poile nor any of the other GMs we connected with Monday wanted to expand too much on these subjects before they were to be fleshed out in further detail over the final two meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.
All of them did touch on Poile’s legacy, though, with this being his last meeting as a GM after announcing in late February he was stepping down as Nashville Predators GM to give way to former Predators coach Barry Trotz.
This was Poile’s 41st season at the helm of an NHL team. He first served for 15 years as GM of the Washington Capitals, and he’s in the process of finishing his 26th year with the Predators.
Over that time, the 73-year-old came closest to winning the Stanley Cup in 2017 when the Predators made the Final. He was named GM of the year that same season, and he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.
Poile presided over his teams for well over 3000 games, which is an NHL record. And he’s the only GM in league history to lead two teams for more than 1000 games and 500 wins.
All of that is just part of what makes his legacy unique, and there’s much more that will make it lasting.
“I think his longevity will not be matched ever again,” said Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois. “We’ll never see that. I think his records are pretty safe in terms of wins and career games as a GM. And I think for a lot of us in the room—I’m certainly one of them—he’s been…people throw out the word mentor and advisor in our business very frequently, it’s thrown around all over, but it applies to David. He’s mentored a lot of us over the years. He’s been a really good sounding board and friend and someone you can talk to. I used to represent the Nashville Predators before I worked for Montreal, and that’s where I got to know him, so we’re going back to 1998, 1999. I go way back with him.
“Just how he respects the game, loves the game, respects the people in the game and loves the people in the game, I think that’s going to be his legacy.”
That’s how Poile said he wants to be remembered—as someone who put more topics on the docket year over year than any other GM at these bi-annual meetings because, as he said, he cared enough about the game to do so.
“It’s a little bit of throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks and to make sure that our meetings our vibrant,” Poile said. “We’re here to work. Not everything is a good idea, but throw things out there to get different opinions and make sure that the game is still in a good place.”
He talked about the responsibility to leave hockey in a better place, which he said was the main principle his father, Bud, drove home through all his years as GM of the expansion Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks and as an eventual entrant into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
Poile took that responsibility seriously at all times and saw it through—both in his work at meetings like these and in shepherding the next heard of GMs.
Just listening to Poile on Monday, Mike Grier, who was appointed San Jose Sharks GM last July, took in a lot of information.
What he took from listening to Poile over the last number of months will serve him well in his new functions.
“It’s very impressive to do the job for so long, and he’s been great with me over the last year with just giving me advice, whether we’re talking casually or talking about players,” Grier said. “He’s offered up free advice to me about how to go about the job, how to deal with ownership, and different things like that. So I really appreciate the time that he’s taken with me personally, and I think he’s done that with a lot of people.”
What Poile will do now is wrap up this season with the Predators, oversee the draft, prepare the team for free agency, and then step into a role as an advisor to ownership, and to the people in business and hockey operations.
“I don’t even know what that will entail yet,” he said. “I’ll still come to Board of Governor meetings, and I’ll be on call for whatever they need, but I’ll take some time to travel, see the grandkids and do things I never got to do because I was so busy.”
Poile described his work as a labour of love.
“It’s everything,” he said. “It’s the only job I ever wanted.”
To do it well required great planning, an ability to evolve with the game’s many changes, and rigid adherence to core values and practices.
“I think we all have our own styles,” Poile said. “Your knowledge of the game, your care of the game (are vital). I have lots of rules or principles for things I do. For example, if somebody calls me, I for sure get back to them that day. Because they wanted to reach out to me, it must be worth their time. Specific things like that.
“I have a pad of paper that I work off of every day, and have about five or six columns of people I talk to every day, whether it be my assistants or my coach. But I also have a box that I leave open every day for the crisis of the day. You don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s always there every day. There’s always something unaccounted for.”
As for what’s to come over these next two days in Florida, we’ll see if any rule tweaks or equipment discussed Monday become finalized.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly also hinted at some discussion with GMs on proper application of the salary cap.
It’s anticipated some review on the length of time certain players spent sidelined for cautionary reasons ahead of this year’s trade deadline could be included in that.
The meetings will resume, with Poile an active participant, early Tuesday morning.