DETROIT – A quick hug, a back slap, and that was that. David Poile and Barry Trotz sat down in a couple of metal folding chairs in the visiting coaches' office at Joe Louis Arena, savored it for a few seconds and went back about their business.
"That was as big a moment as anything," Trotz said. "I was able to do something with David that was sort of unique."
Sort of unique?
That's impressive enough. So is the fact that Poile became the first general manager in NHL history to win 500 games with two franchises, having already won 594 with the Washington Capitals from 1982-97. So is the fact that Trotz became the fifth coach in NHL history to win 500 games with one team, following Al Arbour, Toe Blake, Billy Reay and Lindy Ruff.
But that isn't the heart of the story. These are truly their Nashville Predators. Poile is the only GM the Preds have ever had. Trotz is the only coach the Preds have ever had. They have done everything from help name the team to help pick out the carpet at the rink. They have built a consistently successful organization and a respectable following in a small Southern city.
And now here they were, reaching a milestone and doing it in a place where they never used to win, against a team they have been chasing for years – against a team they could face in the playoffs. The Predators moved past the Red Wings into fourth place in the Western Conference, which would give them home-ice advantage in the first round.
It was another small step toward the Stanley Cup, another small step on a long journey that began more than 14 years ago.
"I think the significance for Barry and myself is, we've been here from Day 1," Poile said.
Poile is an expansion expert. His father, Bud, was the first GM of both the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks. He started his career as an administrative assistant with the brand-new Atlanta Flames, and after leading the Capitals, he became the first GM in Nashville.
When he hired Trotz in August 1997, the team was more than a year from its first faceoff. It had a logo – a saber-toothed skull, like a fossil that had once been unearthed in downtown Nashville – but it had no name.
They brainstormed. They flipped through dictionaries and hockey books. Trotz looked through a Canadian Hockey League guide and found a team from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League called the Granby Predateurs.
"I said, 'The Nashville Predators. That sounds pretty decent,' " Trotz said. The fans thought so, too. They picked Predators instead of Ice Tigers, Fury or Attack. Thank goodness.
But the name was just the beginning. There were so many other details to determine. At one point, Poile, Trotz and assistant coach Paul Gardner were in the dressing room looking at carpet swatches, agonizing over different colors. Finally, Gardner said something like this:
"It doesn't matter. We won't be around when they change the carpet."
Gardner is gone. But Poile and Trotz are still around, and the Predators have changed the carpet at least twice – once because it had worn out, once because of a flood.
Yes, a flood. They're lucky they haven't had locusts. Poile and Trotz have dealt with many plagues in Nashville, from ownership uncertainty to relocation rumors to money problems to player losses.
But they have made the playoffs seven times in eight seasons. They are coming off their first playoff series victory. They have gone from a nice, little efficient operation in a non-traditional market – drafting and developing players, getting by on a tight budget – to an ambitious team that is all in and sold out.
Trotz, one of the great talkers among NHL coaches, still sells Nashville as he always has. On Friday morning in Detroit, a city with Original Six tradition that calls itself Hockeytown, he said Nashville has become "sort of Hockeytown South."
"We've now taken root, and we are part of the fabric of Nashville," Trotz said. "And that will be there for a long, long time."
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In a way, Poile and Trotz have to keep selling, even to their own players. Defenseman Ryan Suter can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Captain Shea Weber can follow next summer. They want to play somewhere they can win the Cup.
The Predators went for it before the trade deadline, adding hulking defenseman Hal Gill, defensive center Paul Gaustad and scoring winger Andrei Kostitsyn. Then they added yet another piece, bringing back star Alexander Radulov, who had left for Russia in 2008 with one year left on his entry-level contract.
All of that has upset team chemistry, and the Predators have been inconsistent lately. They have a lot of work to do in a little amount of time before the playoffs.
"We have all the pieces," said Gill, who won the Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and went to the Eastern Conference final with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010. "But we've got to make sure they're in the right spots."
Poile and Trotz have another challenge, too. They're no longer underdogs, scrapping to make the playoffs. They're expected to win now. They have an excellent goaltender in Pekka Rinne, an elite defense pairing with Suter and Weber, a forward group that can roll four lines, a top-10 offense.
They actually have to manage high expectations inside and outside the organization, reminding everyone of the parity in the NHL – that they have merely become one of several teams with a legit chance, that they have not guaranteed themselves anything.
"I'm sure everyone here knows we have a good team, but we can't sit back," winger Patric Hornqvist said. "We have to work hard. We have to try to get better every time you come to the rink to get our goal."
But that's what Poile and Trotz have been doing since 1997. That's why 500 is so unique.
That's why Suter picked up a puck for Poile during the last timeout Friday night. That's why center David Legwand – the Predators' first draft pick, still with the team – picked up a puck for Trotz after the final horn and presented it to him in the dressing room.
That's why they're far from satisfied.
"That's the evolution," Trotz said. "You want that. If you're not in it to win it, what are you doing in this business?"
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