24 April, 2014

On David Poile and His Poisonous Postseasons

cupajoe.jpegYears ago I learned that David Poile had “Caps” tattooed on his nether region, and with that I swiftly discarded any disappointment I had with his tenure as general manager in D.C. He bled Caps’ Red, White, and Blue, engineered one of the greatest and, for the Caps, most important trades in NHL history, and gave it all he had here. He was also asked by his owner to work with fewer resources — particularly in terms of scouting personnel — than almost any other GM in the league. I couldn’t reasonably ask for any more from him. He assembled Caps’ clubs in the ’80s that genuinely were more than fair rivals to the dynastic New York Islanders. Always his clubs were undone in the postseason by a string of pedestrian netminders in Caps’ sweaters — top-flight goalies then didn’t grow on trees as they do now — or beyond-heroic ones wearing Islanders’ blue.
And so 10 years later, watching him follow what appears to be a near mirror image of his work in Washington with the Predators, I feel a genuine ache in seeing another 100-pt. Poile club prematurely exit the postseason. Should the Sharks prevail tonight in Nashville this season’s Predators will be Poile’s fifth 100-pt. hockey club to be bounced from the playoffs in either the first or second round. On his watch Nashville has never made it to round 2. The failure of these past two Predators’ teams may torment Poile the most: 106 pts. last year, 108 this, and of course his deadline dice rolling for Peter Forsberg in late February. More on that later.
But is there anyone in the NHL or regularly observant of it who doesn’t regard Poile as residing in the top third of the league’s GMs? It’s not as if he’s presided over marquee franchises since 1982. He’s basically undertaken the architecture of two expansion clubs, and in both instances, transformed them into 100-pt. powerhouses. 100-pt. . . . regular season powerhouses.
When a franchise regularly fails in the postseason the fall guys generally are the coach and the netminder. For a lot of folks Barry Trotz is a Jack Adams candidate this season. But Nashville is Trotz’ only head coaching experience in the NHL, Poile having hired him out of Portland of the American League when he took over. They are linked in a way no other coach and GM in this league are. This is Trotz’ record in the postseason: 3-9. And while it’s true that he’s met three heavies in each of his first three visits to the postseason — the Wings in 2004, and the Sharks the past two springs — he and his Preds have nagivated the ardor of the West with stellar success in recent regular seasons. That dramatic postseason falloff doesn’t compute, especially if it’s five games and out last postseason and this.
And what of Tomas Vokoun? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the regular season numbers of David Poile’s goalie are stunning: the entirety of this decade, Vokoun’s goals-against have been well sub-3.00; it’s 2.55 for his career. But his career record is 161-159-35-11. Or, perhaps you’d call that akin to a cumulative version of Pete Peeters, Al Jensen, Bob Mason, and Pat Riggin. In 2004, Vokoun posted an amazing 2.02 goals-against in six postseason games against the Wings. His team couldn’t score for him. (Sound familiar?) Last postseason, Trotz went with Chris Mason between the pipes against San Jose. He went 1-4, his goals-against ballooning up more than a goal more a game over his standout regular season numbers. This year, Trotz has Vokoun back in net. He’s played pretty well.
“Pretty Well” should be the nameplate on the back of every goalie’s sweater ever to play in a postseason game for a David Poile club.
But what is different about the Predator Poile from the Capital one, for me, has been his deadline tinkering with his strong clubs each of the past two trade deadline seasons. Last year he parted with a no. 1 pick and Kris Beech for rental Brendan Witt. This February he riverboat gambled in wholly un-Poile like fashion in acquiring Sweden’s poster boy for health care reform, Peter Forsberg. For Foppa Poile parted with two first-round Predator talents (Scotty Upshaw and Ryan Parent), and a no. 1 and a no. 3 this June. So for what amount to five first round picks Poile could end up acheiving a grand total of two postseason victories and about 60 games of mostly regular season service from Witt and Forsberg.
The very approach Poile has for two-plus decades taken to building 100-pt. hockey clubs he’s abandoned the past two springs as the Nashville heat to compete has risen. Methinks there’s a lesson here to be learned, perhaps, by Caps’ fans (and most particularly certain Caps’ beat reporters).
The cruelest irony of all for Poile could well be that trade with George McPhee for Brendan Witt, which robbed him of the 23rd pick in the first round last summer. A franchise netminder has ever elluded David Poile. It’s way too early to make such a forecast, but with respect to the Russian netminder the Caps selected with Poile’s first rounder last summer, Semen Varlamov, and awful lot of international hockey observers are awfully excited about him.


  1. TG wrote:

    And remember what happend the one time he did gamble at the trade deadline here. Allison, Carter and Carey for Oates, Tocchet and Ranford. Let’s see, he traded youth for age, speed for slowness, etc. Essentially, everything you’re NOT supposed to do. Maybe he should have someone else handle all the deadline day trade decisions.

    20 April, 2007 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  2. usiel wrote:

    When the doom and gloomers attempt to use Poile as the banner for the halcyon days of caps glory I always laugh.

    20 April, 2007 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  3. OrderedChaos wrote:

    From Allan Muir’s column on Sports Illustrated’s site today:
    “Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen all are eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where more than two of them would be back. It’ll take some savvy work by GM David Poile to return the team to this level in 2007-08.”

    21 April, 2007 at 8:11 pm | Permalink