April 26, 2011
Finally, the Predators advance
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - David Poile tried to come up with the right words to describe exactly how he was feeling, but nothing came to mind quickly or easily.
Which is what life is like when you’ve run the Nashville Predators forever.
It has been that long getting here, that frustrating, that incredibly difficult.
“I called the league this morning to talk about playoff scheduling,” said Poile, the only general manager in Preds history. “And as I’m talking to them it hits me, ‘I’ve never made a call like this before.’ I almost started laughing to myself about it.
“A few days ago I called my old boss, Cliff Fletcher, just to talk and get some advice. After 28 years of doing this, you still need some advice. We wound up talking about the ‘89 Cup final, how Calgary chartered to Montreal during the day and Montreal did it post-game and Calgary seemed like the fresher team. We decided because of that to charter during the day rather than at night. It’s little things, sometimes, but you don’t know which of them is going to make a difference for you.”
For years, all the little things Poile did seemed lost in one of the truly invisible NHL franchises. There are obscure teams in hockey and then there’s Nashville. It’s kind of a league disconnect. It’s not too poor to be Phoenix, too pathetic to be Atlanta, too stacked to be Florida. The Predators, with only one GM, only one head coach in Barry Trotz, some constants from his coaching staff, many of the same scouts — a sporting exercise of deadly dull patience, horrible luck and waffling economics can finally claim a spot in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
How long has it been?
Put it this way, for the local sufferers: The drought-laden Maple Leafs have managed to win seven playoff rounds and play in 13 playoff series in the very time it look Nashville to get over the playoff hump with its historic, clinching and emotional win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
“I feel good for so many people,” said Poile, sounding as if he’d won an Academy Award for the first time and didn’t know who to thank first. “Our coaches, Barry (Trotz) and Brent (Peterson) have been here since Day 1. Mitch Korn is the only goalie coach we’ve ever had. The consistency of our organization is pretty rare for pro sports. When we started out, Barry was a guy who had never coached an NHL game. Now, he’s the second most senior coach in the league behind Lindy (Ruff). This win was so important for Barry, so important for our entire operation.”
It’s funny how things work out. Not knowing their playoff schedule, Poile organized his scouting meetings to begin Monday, which in every other year, would be after the Predators’ season was over. But when he saw that Game 6 would be at home the day before the meetings, he arranged for as many of his staff as possible to be present for Sunday’s game.
“Winning with all the scouts around really meant something to me,” said Poile. “They could celebrate in our success after all the hard work they’ve done. During the series with Anaheim, we used 18 different drafted players. We’re one of those traditional, build through the draft kind of teams. We’ve never really been able to operate any other way. And when we could, for a very short time (with deals for Peter Forsberg, for example) the owner decided he didn’t want to own us anymore.”
The victory on Sunday was followed by another announcement Monday: Shea Weber, the Preds’ star defenceman, was nominated for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman. This came just a few days after Pekka Rinne, the goalie, was nominated for the Vezina. This is all new and heady territory for Nashville, winning playoffs, contending for awards, getting attention that isn’t related to wonky ownership, weak attendance or Mike Fisher’s wife.
“It’s been frustrating,” Poile said, about the lack of playoff success, and lack of attention the team receives. “If you watch hockey in Canada, everyone knows who Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel are. But how many know about Shea Weber and Ryan Suter? Those are our stars.
“I watch TSN all the time. I read the Canadian newspapers. TSN is totally slanted on the Canadians teams and they have to be. And when I see you writing, ‘who is this guy on Nashville?’ I understand. But if you turn on hockey in the U.S., you see Detroit every week or Chicago or Philly. You have to look to find Nashville. I think we were on one national game this year. We don’t get any recognition.
“But I’m telling you, we have knowledgeable fans and the loudest crowd in the league. Do we have enough fans? Probably not. Could we use more? Yeah. But people care down here. I mean, really care. And this is an exciting time for us, an exciting time for them.”
With perspective in mind, it was so exciting Sunday night that Poile wanted to go out with his family and with Trotz’s family and celebrate the occasion of a playoff series finally won. Only Trotz decided to pass. “I think we should all go home,” the coach said. “I’m tired.”