If there’s one team that deserves to win the NHL’s coronavirus draft lottery, it’s the Nashville Predators. Because if that happens, it will force David Poile to do something he’s done fewer than a handful of times in his 22 years as the only GM the Predators have ever known. Having the No. 1 overall pick would give the Predators no choice but to draft, and presumably develop, an elite offensive player in consensus No. 1 prospect Alexis Lafreniere.
The Predators were an upset casualty in the qualifying round of the playoffs against a team that was 11th in the Western Conference when the NHL paused in March and an organization that was in disarray when they met less than a week ago. When you can’t outscore the Arizona Coyotes in three of four games, there’s something seriously wrong with your offense. Yes, the Predators went long stretches in the series as the better team and, yes, Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper was brilliant. And losing Viktor Arvidsson was a devastating blow. But this is a team that does not have a game breaker and really, beyond Paul Kariya, has never had one.
And much of that deficiency falls to the man in charge. Poile has overseen 22 drafts for the Predators and while he has stocked the organization with a treasure trove of elite defensemen and goaltenders, his record for recruiting offensive players, either through the draft or in trades, has been nothing short of abysmal. In Poile’s very first draft in 1998, the Predators selected David Legwand with the second overall pick. They found a some decent offensive players in the late rounds with the likes of Arvidsson, Craig Smith, Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist and unearthed some scoring talent with the likes of Scott Hartnell, Kevin Fiala and Alexander Radulov in the first round. But the fact is Poile has drafted 93 forwards in the past 22 years and only one of them, Legwand, has scored 500 points for the franchise. Good, but not even very good, forget about great.
Lord knows, Poile has tried to make up for that deficiency by making trades. Lots of them. A ton of blockbusters, in fact. But all of those deals were basically a shell game when it came to landing a true No. 1 center. Ryan Johansson, who cost Poile defenseman Seth Jones and a bloated eight-year deal worth $64 million, has never delivered on that front, although he was very good in this series. Neither has Kyle Turris, nor, at least in the first year of a seven-year deal with an $8 million annual cap hit, has Matt Duchene. And they actually wouldn’t be getting that in Lafreniere, who is a natural left winger, but at least they’ll have someone who might be able to break the franchise record for goals in a season. And it shouldn’t be that difficult because it’s only 34, which Arvidsson scored last season.
So that leaves us with what perhaps is a rather unpopular opinion, but is it time for the Predators to move on from Poile? Now, we’re not advocating they allow word to get out that Poile will be fired before they even check out of the bubble the way the dysfunctional Florida Panthers did with Dale Tallon, but perhaps a move upstairs is in order. Clearly, the Predators need a new look, both on the ice and in the front office.
There was a time when Poile could brag that he almost never fired a coach, but not even that is true anymore. He replaced Peter Laviolette with John Hynes this season and obviously that didn’t work, at least in the short term. Poile has never been afraid of making enormous trades and lots of them, but the Predators have largely been treading water as an organization. Aside from their march to the Stanley Cup final in 2017, they’ve only been out of the first round four times in franchise history. That’s not good enough for a franchise that has worked hard so hard to establish itself in its market and create a rabid fan following. After almost a quarter of a century, it’s no longer good enough for the Predators to be a plucky underdog with the occasional intriguing playoff run in them. These fans deserve better. They deserve to go to games knowing they have at least one player who has the capability to break a game open.
In their six-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the first round last spring, the Predators scored a total of 12 goals. In this regular season, they were a middling offensive team with a negative goal differential. A number of the Predators players said this team felt different and took a lot of pride in outplaying the Coyotes, but when they needed a goal most, they couldn’t find it. And there were two comments by Coyotes players after the series that summed things up perfectly.
“We had a couple of great chances in OT, a couple of pucks that could have bounced our way and just like OT hockey can be, they get a bounce and the right guy at the right time pokes it in for them,” said Predators winger Filip Forsberg. “We played well enough to win, but at the same time we have to find a way to win these close games.” And defenseman Roman Josi added: “At the end of the day, the playoffs are about winning and we didn’t get the job done.” And perhaps the most stinging indictment of all came from Hynes: “They found a way to win and we didn’t.”
Too many times, the Predators have not been able to score enough. And they certainly haven’t been able to find a way to win enough in the playoffs. Since getting to the final in 2017, they’ve trended downward with losses in the second, first and qualifying rounds in successive years. The Predators have only once in their history had a point-per-game scorer and after sitting Pekka Rinne and watching Juuse Saros throw up an .895 save percentage in the first round, they are very likely staring down the barrel of a future goaltending issue.
It’s not as though Poile has not had a chance to make this right. It’s not enough to stockpile a conga line of elite defensemen, something Poile has done over the years. The time has come for a changing of the guard in The Music City. David Poile is as decent an individual as you’ll ever meet in the hockey world, but as has been said many times before, you are what your record says you are,