David Poile

Giving a player a second chance not a first for Poile

By Jim Diamond

Despite his reputation as being conservative and one of the NHL’s old guard, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile has rolled the dice on more than one occasion on players who carried some degree of baggage with them into Nashville.

Poile should be commended for giving players another chance when many of his peers would not do the same.

In the early years of the Nashville franchise, Poile traded away Cliff Ronning, then the team’s only true star, leading scorer, and fan favorite, in exchange for Jere Karalahti. Prior to the trade, Karalahti was featured in a piece in Sports Illustrated that detailed his bout with addictions that included heroin and LSD. In the end, Karalahti could not overcome his substance abuse issues while in Nashville, and he was eventually suspended and allowed to become a free agent after playing just 15 games with the Predators.

To Poile’s credit, that situation did not dissuade him from bringing in other players who also had substance abuse issues in their past as evidenced by the acquisitions of Brian McGrattan and Rich Clune.

The Predators claimed McGrattan off of waivers in October of 2011 and Clune, also off waivers, just before the start of the lockout-shortened 2013-14 season in January 2013. Since being claimed by the Predators, both McGrattan, now with the Calgary Flames, and Clune have stuck in the NHL and earned new contracts while also speaking openly of their battles with substance abuse away from the ice.

Tuesday’s signing of Mike Ribeiro to a one-year, $1.05 million dollar deal is the latest chapter in Poile’s book of second chances.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney made headlines with his comments to the Arizona Republic following the team’s announcement that they were buying out the three remaining years on his contract. “Mike had some real behavior issues last year with us I felt we could not tolerate going forward,” Maloney told the newspaper.

Those are pretty harsh words, and even if true, they are not something often heard from an NHL general manager.

Poile said Tuesday that the Predators did their due diligence on Ribeiro, consulting many who knew him. But Poile also said that he spent time with Ribeiro and his wife before making the offer to join the Predators.

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Many have said that the Ribeiro contract is low risk at just one year and relatively little money at just north of a million dollars. While that may be true in theory, there is a decent amount of risk involved in bringing in a player who had problems in his previous location. Players who miss meetings, flights, and have shouting matches with their coach – all things that reportedly happened with Ribeiro in Phoenix – have the potential to tear apart a locker room.

Ribeiro has all the incentive in the world to make things work in Nashville; not so much on the ice but more off of it. He revealed that many of his issues in Phoenix stemmed from marital difficulties that caused a separation from his wife and children for a time. The family has been reunited now, and the family was in Nashville checking things out to see if it would be a good fit for them. Things going right at home will go a long way toward getting them going in the right direction on the ice.

Poile said that this would be Ribeiro’s last chance. At 34 years old and with the reputation at his last stop in Phoenix, that isn’t hyperbole on Poile’s part. Should problems present themselves in Nashville, it will likely be Ribeiro’s last NHL stop. Given that it took him two weeks to land a one-year deal at a salary way below what a player of Ribeiro’s quality should earn on the open market, not too many general managers were calling him with better offers.

Good on Poile for giving him that chance, though.

Poile to ask Predators to kick smokeless tobacco habit

By Jim Diamond

A day after former baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn passed away as a result of an oral cancer he believed to have developed from years of using smokeless tobacco, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile was asked about use among the players on his team.

Unlike baseball players mostly of years past, hockey players don’t ply their trade with a gigantic wad of tobacco stuffed into one of their cheeks, as would a squirrel gathering nuts and seeds in preparation for a long cold winter.

For many of the NHL’s players, the first thing they do after coming off of the ice following practice or a game is to grab for a small round tin of chewing tobacco sitting on the shelf in their locker stall and throw a pinch between their lip and gum.

“We talk about it, absolutely,” Poile said. “I’ve actually got that down where we ask every year for guys not to do that. I don’t get it since I don’t do it, but not good, not good.”

The reality is that most players who use smokeless tobacco developed the habit or addiction long before they reached the game’s highest level, so getting them to stop after years of use is not easy.

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Some use it to satiate a nicotine addiction developed from smoking cigarettes. Players today are smart enough to realize that being seen smoking would not reflect very well on them, but the same stigma is not attached to the use of smokeless tobacco. Well, not yet anyway.

Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press did an extensive feature on the subject in late December of 2013. His piece detailing use among players in Manitoba illustrated the fact that a lot of them started using in their early to mid teens. It also pointed to the facts that coaches and administrators of leagues differed on exactly when use among players begins.

No matter the age that the players began using smokeless tobacco, their reasons for starting mirror those given for any other adolescent who picks up bad habits: boredom, peer pressure, and trying to fit in with an older crowd.

Turner quoted Mike Gordichuk, head coach and GM of the MMJHL’s Transcona Railer Express, as saying:

“When they see an NHL player do it and it’s accepted by the NHL, they’re going to do it. If you could clean it up at the NHL level it would filter down. There’s such a high respect from these kids, that’s what they’re aspiring to be, and they see guys like (Winnipeg Jets defenseman) Dustin Byfuglien do it, to them that’s OK.”

Gwynn’s public battle with cancer should speak volumes to those who may think that smokeless tobacco is a safe alternative to smoking. The American Cancer Society outlines the number of cancers and oral diseases that can result from smokeless tobacco use.

The number of players who do it would probably surprise most fans, but there is not a whole lot NHL teams can do about it. The league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHLPA mentions tobacco just twice.

Article 25.1 states: “No Player shall be involved in any endorsement or sponsorship of alcoholic beverages (excluding malt-based beverages such as beer) and/or tobacco products.”

Exhibit 14 states: “The use of tobacco products while in the presence of fans in any arena or while attending any team function is prohibited.”

All Poile can do is make the request of his players, and that is exactly what he plans to do.

“Am I going to ask our players to not do it?” Poile said. “Yes. Absolutely.”

Poile’s hiring of Laviolette capped a lengthy courtship

Tuesday, Peter Laviolette was named the second head coach in the history of the Nashville Predators.

To hear general manager David Poile speak about the end of Barry Trotz’s tenure and the start of Laviolette’s, it sounded a lot like the sporting equivalent of a relationship gone stale and one party in the relationship developed a wandering eye.

The storyline could mirror one of a daytime soap opera. Two people familiar with one another run into each other in the produce section of the grocery store, which evolves into stopping off for coffee, and it goes on from there.

It wasn’t as overt as Poile taking out a personal ad ask if anyone liked piña coladas or getting caught in the rain, but in all, it meant that Trotz’s tenure with the Predators would soon be over after 15 seasons with the team.

It started out innocently enough. David Poile was the general manager of Team USA for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and Laviolette was one of the team’s assistant coaches. When the Philadelphia Flyers fired Laviolette just three games into the 2013-14 season, he had a lot more time on his hands to do some pre-Olympic work for Team USA.

“Obviously one of the things that favored Peter in this situation is that I’ve known him for a number of years based on a lot of our mutual work with USA Hockey and especially last year with the Olympics, naming him one of the three coaches, basically interviewing him at that point for that position and then getting to work with him all year long,” Poile said at his Tuesday afternoon press conference. “When he lost his job with Philadelphia after three games last year, I basically talked to him at least once or twice a week through that whole process. I used him as a conduit between myself and the coaches. So, subliminally, we had a general manager/coach relationship the whole year last year. As I said, I’ve interviewed a few people, but that’s one or two interviews. With Peter Laviolette, basically in some form, I was interviewing him all year long.”

Was Poile having thought bubbles of doubt all season long?

  • How he and Barry had been together for an awfully long time.
  • And his head coach has never won a Stanley Cup like Peter has.
  • This team can’t seem to score goals, but the teams Peter has coached have consistently found the back of the net.
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At Trotz’s press conference the day it was announced that he would not be back as head coach, he admitted that he could tell things were different between he and Poile. A late-season conversation told him everything he needed to know.

“I’ve been with David for 30 years, and he is wonderful,” Trotz said at the time. “He is a first-class guy and I knew he was hurting. I asked him a question and he got a little emotional like I did.”

It probably resembled that scene in the movie Airplane where a husband and wife are shown after dinner and the woman thinks to herself, “Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home,” or later when dinner had made him ill, she again thinks, “Jim never vomits at home.”

In all seriousness, Poile probably got the right man for the job. If anyone can fix the systemic offensive woes that have plagued the Predators over the years, he is the guy.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Poile indicated that Laviolette thinks that the pieces that are in place up front may just need a second chance under a new regime.

On an afternoon conference call, Predators forward Matt Cullen was excited for the opportunity to play for Laviolette again. Cullen played for him in Carolina, winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.

“I think he’s a great fit for our team and what we need going forward,” Cullen said. “I think a lot of Peter as a coach. He’s a good person and he just has a real ability to bring out the best in all of his players whether you are a fourth line guy or a first line guy or a first year guy in the league or a veteran.”

All signs point to end of Trotz’s tenure behind Nashville bench

By Jim Diamond

Tuesday night’s shootout loss in Dallas officially eliminated any slim hopes that a late season rally could vault the Nashville Predators into the playoffs after a largely disappointing season.

For the second consecutive year, no postseason hockey will be played at Bridgestone Arena, and that is not setting well with anyone connected to the team. Coming off of seven playoff appearances in eight seasons, that is unacceptable and steps will be taken to end that slide.

The offensively challenged team failed to score enough goals, and when Pekka Rinne was sidelined in late October due to an E. coli infection, the season was pretty much lost.

Earlier this season, the Predators’ ownership group asked general manager David Poile for a three-year plan per an ownership source. It’s not a tremendous leap to conclude there is major concern when a typically hands-off ownership group steps in to ask how the ship plans to be righted.

An owner, or ownership group in this case, does not all of a sudden ask the man in charge of their hockey operations for such a plan if things are going well and they have no concern about the direction of the hockey club.

This plan is a de facto message to Poile that they do not like the fact that the team has failed to reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Asking for a plan was ownership’s way of letting him know that things need to change.

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Head coach Barry Trotz’s contract expires June 30th.

Doing a little math with this information, it is pretty reasonable to come to the conclusion that Trotz’s tenure behind the Nashville bench will come to an end following Sunday’s season finale in St. Paul against the Wild.

Trotz is no dummy, and being a “lame duck” head coach all season has spoken loudly enough to him that the writing was on the wall that his ouster was coming. Things haven’t been great between Poile and Trotz since last offseason, when Poile fired associate coach Peter Horachek against Trotz’s wishes.

The failure to reach the playoffs these last two seasons has a significant trickle down economic effect throughout the organization. A ‘meh’ on-ice product has led to a noticeable level of apathy among the people who write checks to the Predators – those highly cherished season ticketholders.

Renewals are down despite the organization offering ticketholders what one marketing insider described as “everything but a ride to the rink” if they renewed.

If they still have that Grand Avenue sponsorship, maybe they should try and work something out with them to do just that. Renew season tickets, go grand, just relax, enjoy life, and expect luxury. Everyone wins, right?

By parting ways with Trotz, Poile buys himself some time. Let’s face it, when ownership is looking for change, if you are not the one who makes it, you are likely the one who will be changed. The non-hockey side of operations has the ear of ownership just as much as Poile and his crew do, and they are doing more than whispering their ideas on how things should be changed to the owners.

Home playoff games are cash windfalls to teams, and having a combined total of zero of them over the course of two years hurts. That pain will become even more of a reality when the time will come this summer to scratch out another $13 million check to team captain Shea Weber when the latest installment of his signing bonus comes due.

With Trotz’s contract expiring, Poile is not putting the owners in the position of having to pay two coaches at once; the jettisoned head coach as well as a new one, so the timing on this works well in that respect.

A new head coach will give those in charge of selling tickets an opportunity to tell potential buyers that this will be a new generation for the team and that they should get on board with the new exciting brand of hockey that they will say said new coach will bring with him.

The main problem for those ticket sellers is that the players who will pull on those Predators gold jerseys 41 times at Bridgestone Arena in 2014-15 will largely be quite similar to those who did so this season. They are locked into some bad contracts, up front especially, that will be difficult to get out of before the puck drops in October. And going to ownership asking for permission to buy out another contract, as they did with Hal Gill last summer, will not look great on Poile, who is already walking on thinner ice than he ever has in his time as general manager with the Predators.

Now this group of Predators could be good; hell they have looked like world-beaters the last few weeks, but betting on consumers to open up their wallets for a roster that looks eerily similar to the current one is a pretty big gamble.

It’s a gamble they are going to make. That gamble means someone other than Trotz will be the team’s head coach for the first time since the franchise entered the league.

A fresh start may be attractive to Trotz too. He is highly regarded around the league, and there will likely be several coaching vacancies that he will immediately become the top candidate for when pink slips begin to be issued this weekend.