David Poile, Ryan Suter reunite with Team USA to pursue shared Olympic goal
The movie “Moneyball” paints a picture.
First and foremost, the picture it paints is of Billy Beane, the general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s, struggling to compete with richer teams for players due to his lack of the amount of financial resources needed to re-sign his best players.
In the movie, Beane (played by Brad Pitt), resorts to hiring a crackerjack numbers guy (played by Jonah Hill) to develop a cutting-edge form of tracking advanced baseball stats. This allows Beane to recognize players undervalued by teams with more money, and find replacements for his own players that he was unable to re-sign.
In the movie, it all works so well, as Beane loses three of his best players in the winter of 2001, and still manages to find a way to improve his club in 2002.
In hockey, U.S. men’s Olympic general manager David Poile is somewhat of a Billy Beane-type figure, minus the stunt double with movie-star looks and a catchy new player-evaluating philosophy.
Photo: USA Today Sports/Getty Images
Poile, the 63-year-old general manager of the NHL’s Nashville Predators, is instead a crusty, crafty old hockey guy who has developed his knowledge of the game from the ground up.
The Toronto-born Poile started as the son of a Hockey Hall of Famer named Norman “Bud” Poile, who played for five teams in the NHL’s Original 6 era and eventually became the first general manager in Philadelphia Flyers history.
David Poile then got his own feet wet in management shortly after his own unspectacular playing career stalled out in the minor leagues, landing a job at age 22 as an administrative assistant in the since-relocated Atlanta Flames’ front office in 1972.
From there, Poile worked his way up to being the Flames’ assistant general manager by the time he was in his late 20s, taking over the reins of the Washington Capitals at age 32 and sending his team to Sochi for the 2014 Olympics in the midst of his 42nd straight season in an NHL front office.
Unlike the swashbuckling Beane/Pitt combo, though, there’s nothing about Poile’s story that’s made for Hollywood.
The name of Poile’s game is pure nuts-and-bolts hockey wisdom, crafted by decades in the dark, damp corridors of sometimes-lonely hockey arenas. His lifetime of hard, sometimes underappreciated behind-the-scenes work is legitimized by his track record.
Starting as general manager of the Washington Capitals, Poile sent a team that had never made the NHL’s postseason to the playoffs in 14 of his 15 seasons at the helm.
As the only general manager in Nashville Predators' 17-year history, he’s systematically developed a pipeline of talent that has led to Nashville becoming an elite NHL organization for the last decade, built entirely on Poile’s shrewd dealings on a sometimes shoe-string budget.
Poile’s work with Nashville has earned him acclaim as the NHL’s top front office executive (2007), in addition to the Lester Patrick Award for his lifetime of service to hockey in the United States.
With all of these awards and honors, you could even say that Poile’s life in hockey is a decorated as a general manager’s can ever be.
Except, there is one major thing missing: A championship at the highest level, which to many, has only eluded him – similar to how Billy Beane is portrayed in “Moneyball” –due to his never having managed a team with the sort of financial wherewithal to retain its core players long enough to reach his sport’s “highest” level.
These four players, all past or current stars in the sport, are just a handful of the dozens of skilled young men who were drafted and developed by Poile, who eventually sold their mentor out to join another team to financial gain.
To Poile’s credit, throughout all of these painful losses, he, like Bill Beane in the movie, has always quietly got right back to the grind and quickly cultivated replacements that oftentimes have ended up being even better than their predecessors.
Except Ryan Suter.
Suter, Poile’s former franchise defenseman in Nashville, dumped him in the summer of 2012 by packaging himself with close friend Zach Parise to get “twin”13-year, $98-million contracts with the Minnesota Wild.
And of all the times he’s been dumped throughout his career, this jilting was even too galling for the unemotional, erudite Poile to bite his lip. Having lost a 27-year-old defenseman – in the prime of his career, that he first put in an NHL jersey at age 18 – who he thought would be different than the others, Poile sounded off.
Photo: Getty Images
As he told reporter Josh Cooper of the Nashville-based newspaper, The Tennessean, after Suter’s departure in the summer of 2012:
“We had a meeting in November (2011) with (his agent) Neil Sheehy, he (Suter) said at the time that he’s not going anywhere else. He’s signing with the Nashville Predators. It’s a quote.
“He told me it (signing with Minnesota) was for family reasons. I guess that’s where the disappointment comes in. I know family is important to all of us, but I know he and his wife like Nashville. It’s not very far from (his home in) Wisconsin or Minneapolis where her parents are from.
“(I’m) not only disappointed but very surprised. Over the last year I’ve had literally, 20, 30, 40 conversations with Ryan and his representative, mostly with Ryan about our desire to sign him to a long-term deal and the importance to the Predators hockey club.
“I said to him many times, this is a real missed opportunity.”
An understandable reaction from Poile. But, very out of character.
And, oh, the irony.
With Poile now an Olympic tournament away from a title that would be the elusive crowned jewel of his lifetime of accomplishments, he’ll be relying on the very-same Suter to be his best defenseman and help him reach the only thing in hockey he’s never been able to attain: a championship.
“We’ve talked about things,” says Suter, whose father, Bob, famously was part of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey team that won gold medals in Lake Placid.
“He apologized for the things he said. It’s behind us now. We’ve moved on, and now we’re both trying to do the same thing: win a gold medal.”
“We’ve had conversations,” adds Poile of Suter, the consensus top American defenseman in the game today. “Obviously, he was one of our (Nashville Predators) best players, just as he’ll be one of the USA’s best players.”
And of Suter’s specific role on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team?
“On the lead, top pair of defensemen in the Olympics,” says Poile. “He’s also in our leadership group, and one of our assistant captains.
“Ryan’s going to be a huge factor.”
But still. The irony.
Poile has spent a lifetime in hockey where he’s accomplished almost everything imaginable, only to constantly be denied hockey’s biggest prizes due to his top players leaving his teams for more money.
And now, after years of taking everything in stride, the one player that Poile had a slip of the tongue over having lost will be perhaps be the player he most needs to perform well in Sochi in order for him to capture the championship that his hockey resume so badly craves.
“We had great success at the last Olympics,” says Suter of the 2010 Olympics, when Brian Burke was the U.S. GM. “Last Olympics, we were kind of under the radar, and kind of the underdog. This year, we’re going into it with the mindset that we are going to win a gold medal.
“Anything less would be a disappointment for me.”
For Poile, too.
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