Faith, Hope, & Love – in a Hockey Context (Part 2 of 2)


What’s love got to do with it? How simplistic is it to say that the success of Nashville Predators’ dynamic duo of Head Coach Barry Trotz (left) and General Manager, David Poile is attributable to something so fickle as love? Well, okay…VERY. Nevertheless, if it isn’t smoke & mirrors, it’s gotta be something. And with sound team-building, the culture of respect these two have created in music City, and a little positive karma so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Preds fans are definitely feelin’ it.  (Pre-composite images: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)


“I’ll take ‘Things That Last Forever’ for $100, Alex.”
Alright; if I haven’t already lost you on this love-connection theory involving David Poile, Barry Trotz, and the success of the Nashville Predators franchise, I figure I might as well take ya the rest of the way.

So here’s where I have to go with my gut and with my years of observing this team, in attempting to explain something that basically defies explanation in the National Hockey League – and in pro sports, in general. I only ask you not to dismiss my idea out of hand; just proceed from here with an open mind. You can then conclude that I’m off my nut and/or drastically over-simplifying things; or perhaps you might agree with my general observation even if you don’t buy the pseudo-spiritual implications.

The reference to the Bible that I mentioned previously comes from perhaps the least controversial chapter in the New Testament, in my opinion: the Book of First Corinthians, Chapter 13 – greatly renowned as the ‘Love Chapter.’ The reason I don’t consider it particularly controversial or even hard to accept even from a secular standpoint is because its subject matter is as universal as the even more-widely recognized biblical tenet, ‘The Golden Rule.’

In this well-known chapter, the first 12 verses describe the manifold nature of God’s perfect love. Now whether or not you believe in God or believe that the attributes of love as portrayed in the passage are even possible, I doubt that many would argue that they describe what love should be like. However, that’s not exactly what I want to get into here. It’s the next verse that conveys what I consider to be an even more universal – even secular truth.

Verse 13 announces, “Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.” (Translation: New Living Bible)

Let’s stop for a minute and really think about ‘The Big 3’ of 1 Corinthians 13:13, shall we?.

Out of this trio of ‘eternal’ components, Faith is the most personal; it carries with it the typical connotation that something positive is going to happen. Merriam-Webster Online gives one of its definitions as, “firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.” Whether we have faith in only ourselves or apply that trust to something else, I think it’s safe to say that we all have faith in something.

By contrast, hope is a more external commodity. It suggests anticipation, perhaps based upon the actions of others, but is not necessarily related to circumstances that are within our direct control. Hope too is an essential part of life, no matter how little of it we possess.

But love; well, that’s the kingpin, right there! Love is perhaps the most desired of the three, although it’s easily the most external item on the list. Love is what everyone wants. The Beatles told us it’s “all ya need.” It’s the driving force behind most of what our society considers really important.

Ah, but there’s a catch.

Faith in oneself doesn’t necessarily depend on anyone else. And hope? Heck; we can all hope that we win the lottery some day, right? You don’t really need anyone’s involvement to do that.

But Love is different.

While we can certainly generate love, doing so is never more than half the equation. Faith and hope can be self-provided; they don’t necessarily require the input of others. Love, in order to be complete, must be a two-way street; it has to be given and it has to be received, leaving those on the giving end in jeopardy of disappointment if the emotion isn’t reciprocated.

Under the category of ‘Things That Last Forever,’ love is life’s proverbial Daily Double. When love – in any context of relationship – is both given and received, the joy it brings is at least twice that of the alternative circumstance, right?

So what exactly are you trying to say, here, AJ?

Well, I’m certainly not suggesting that Barry Trotz is hosting bible studies after practice. And I don’t think that the hockey facilities down at 501 Broadway resemble some kind of hippie commune (although the locker room could probably stand a spritz of patchouli every now and again).

What I am suggesting is that Poile and Trotz know something that obviously comes across to their players as well as their fans. They know how important love and its sub-genres of respect, inclusion, and even discipline (a.k.a. ‘tough love’) can be, even in a hockey context. I don’t think that they spend a lot of time thinking about it, nor do they make any kind of calculated gesture to show the world ‘how much they care.’

Rather, I’m convinced that the genuine respect – the love – that I consider to be the hallmark of the Predators franchise is intrinsic to Poile and Trotz; they know no other way. They realize that even in a sport often given to the cynicism of “what have you done for me lately,” the emotional investment of camaraderie, emotional support, and ‘belief’ in the individual without any other conditions attached, is the best way to live and the best way to build a hockey team.

Because love is the only thing that truly lasts.

Poile and Radulov: A (Tough) Love Story
As you might guess, what really sealed the deal for me in deciding to bring this subject to the fore was something that happened a couple of weeks ago, when forward Alexander Radulov returned to the Predators from self-imposed exile to the Kontinental Hockey League. And it wasn’t just the fact that indeed he did return; it was how he returned. It was about the process.

And I got news for some, folks – the process didn’t start a couple of weeks ago.

Recently, numerous NHL observers have praised Poile for the way he was able to bring Nashville’s prodigal son back into the fold so seamlessly and at easily the most optimal of any point since he bolted for Mother Russia in July of 2008. Some considered it yet another extremely shrewd move by the Preds’ GM, in keeping with the ‘crafty’ reputation he has rightly earned as a deft and resourceful NHL manager for nearly three decades.

However, in this case, Poile’s overall of handling of the A-Rad Saga drew additional raves from observers – not just for the timing of bringing him back, but even more so, for the fact that he was even able to do so at all.

Some had doubted Radulov’s ultimate desire to even play in the NHL, with a few pontificating that he was enamored with his ‘big fish in a small-ish pond’ status as the KHL’s best player. Poile always believed otherwise; and guess who turned out to be right…again?

In spite of all the media reports out of the KHL, insisting that Rads couldn’t care less about playing anywhere but right there in his own back yard, Poile knew better. How could he be so sure? Because he knew his former player and what was truly important to him. Poile knew Alexander Radulov because he never stopped getting to know Alexander Radulov, even when the rest of the North American hockey community had already written him off.

It was all about the love, my friends.

You see, Poile never stopped nurturing the relationship with his wandering winger; he never stopped going the distance to assure Rads that he was still a Nashville Predator – not only contractually, but inclusively as well. The rest of PredsNation may have been borderline apoplectic over the defection, but on that horrific day in early July of 2008, there were no threatening or angry words shouted in the direction of St. Petersburg from Poile’s office.

The Preds’ GM remained calm, and rather than publicly blasting his talented young prospect for what most regarded as raw impudence, he instead immediately established an amazingly consistent public refrain of encouragement to Radulov, entreating him to return to the world’s best hockey league. Poile remained in contact with Rads throughout his three-and-a-half-year absence from the team, visiting him at every opportunity in which the two were in the same general geographic proximity for other business and/or at international competitions. The meetings were casual and friendly.

The way was being paved.

The Predators wanted Radulov back, but quite necessarily, they wanted him back on their terms. That didn’t mean that they had to play hardball, but neither did it require them to get on their knees and beg.

Radulov’s announced reason for leaving was, of course, because the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa showed him the money. In fact, according to another source that quoted eventual Nashville teammate, Sergei Kostitsyn, with whom he’d confided about the matter previously, Radulov was likely being courted by Salavat well before 2008. At that point in the life of Nashville’s current ownership group, increasing salary expenditures was something they were neither willing nor able to do much of – especially in response to an as-yet unproven player already under contract who believes he deserves more.

But as Radulov himself has said repeatedly since he’s been back, whenever he’s  been asked to elucidate further on the summer of 2008, or comment on his reasons for leaving, he simply says, “It’s in the past; I don’t want to talk about that anymore.”

And now, neither do I (at least not in this post, anyway).

Ultimately, the point to be made is that Poile held the high card regarding Radulov’s NHL career, however the tenor of the game played by the Preds’ GM was friendly and sincere. He continued to cultivate the relationship but never budged on the point that Alex had to honor his original deal.

You see, it didn’t have to be that way, nor did Radulov’s return to Music City necessarily have to happen. Poile could have easily done what many (including myself) thought he would do; he could have traded Rads’ rights to another team, assuring that he would at least get something in return for his once-valuable prospect. Almost nobody thought they’d see him in a Predators sweater again.

Trotz, for one, didn’t believe it – even as recently as a week prior. “I’ll believe it when I see the whites of his eyes,” he was so famously quoted in the days after the rumors of Radulov’s return really began to fly.

In reality, Poile may have been the only person on the planet who never doubted it would happen.

Nope, the construction of Rads’ road back to the NHL didn’t begin a few weeks or a months ago; it started the day it was confirmed he was gone, on July 11, 2008, when Poile confidently responded to the news with the statement that Radulov, “would be a Nashville Predator for many years to come.” That road was finally completed late on Tuesday evening, March 20, 2012 at Nashville International Airport, where Poile picked up his long-lost prospect personally. According to witnesses, the two embraced upon their reunion, and it wasn’t any kind of perfunctory ‘man-hug,’ either, but one of substance; one that mutually communicated, “I’m really GLAD to see you!”

Recognizing What We Already Knew
On Wednesday, March 21, 2012, the day of Rads’ official return to the Preds, in their weekly hockey podcast, ‘Marek vs. Wyshynski,’ two of my favorite nationally-known NHL bloggers, Greg ‘PuckDaddy’ Wyshinski and Jeff Marek discussed the news and what it could mean to the Preds playoff chances.

While remaining fairly neutral on the subject of the league’s allowance of  Radulov’s return so late in the season, yet without requiring him to go through the waiver re-entry process, the commentators were in total agreement that nothing like this could have happened apart from the unique personal style that separates Poile from most NHL general managers.

Marek chimed:

“If you look at the way he’s handled this; if you look at the way David Poile has handled the Radulov situation, [how he] has handled Weber, and Pekka Rinne when he was unsigned, and with Ryan Suter  – everything’s about positivity and going forward and not looking back, and not being negative, and not dwelling on anything.

“This has been a real lesson for a lot of general managers, because so many different times – and you’re sure that David Poile felt awful about what happened with Radulov, and was pissed off, was angry, and was disappointed that he walked out on his team and he left, and he spent a first round draft pick on the guy and a spent a lot of money helping to develop him, to make him a NHL player; and to have him walk away like this is disastrous for the franchise…

“But he never expressed it.

“David Poile; this is a lesson to all the other general managers in the NHL: how to handle yourself in a very difficult situation. It’s never a good idea to lash out at the player if you wanna bring him back into the mix…It’s where you put your ego aside for business. And even if ya don’t like him, or if you don’t like his agent… you don’t ONLY do business with people that you LIKE. You can do business with people that you DON’T like, or situations that you don’t like; David Poile has played this masterfully…To the POINT, Wysh…

[yada, yada, yada; take a breath, willya, Jeff?]

Marek would go on to say that he might still be a bit skeptical of Radulov’s intentions – whether he wants to stay in Nashville or return to the KHL, or move on to another NHL team after he eventually becomes an unrestricted free agent – that, and all the hype surrounding him and whatever alleged influence he might have on Ryan Suter’s decision to stay after this season.

Nevertheless, for the way he has handled all of it (which, by the way is how he has always handled things as the Preds GM), Marek believes Poile is worthy of a General Manager of the Year Award.

Nice to see that people are finally starting to take notice.

Behind the Moves…And Into the Heart
And finally, there’s a wonderful new hockey book that became available recently that I’ll be talking a lot more about in coming weeks. It features an anecdote about Poile that I’d like to share in closing; it’s something I found to be as revealing as it is humorous.

The book, Behind the Moves, by Jason Farris, is an incredibly extensive, in-depth history, documenting the stories, personalities, and decision-making styles and tactics of top NHL General Managers down through the years. It is required reading for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes goings-on of championship NHL franchises. Farris based his findings upon exhaustive research and in-person interviews with every living NHL GM who’s ever has taken his team to a Stanley Cup final.

It’s really heady stuff, and if you don’t believe me, go to the website, nhlgms.com, and click on the audio clip to hear what the aforementioned Mr. Marek had to say about it (and by the way, it’s only available from the website and not in stores, so do check it out).

Although Poile wasn’t interviewed for the book, he is prominently referenced in several of its stories. One of them is told by a former Nashville Assistant GM who spent seven years in Music City before going on to distinguish himself as one of the NHL’s preeminent young mangers.

Ray Shero learned the GM ropes from Poile from 1998 to 2006, before landing his first tour of duty in the big chair, guiding the Pittsburgh Penguins from organizational turmoil to the 2009 Stanley Cup Championship in just his third season on the job.

And while the intended tenor of Shero’s quote is obviously flip and funny, the message behind it is poignant and telling of the seriousness with which his former boss regards his duties as the steward of his players’ livelihood. It is a fitting tribute, I believe, to the philosophical constant of love and respect that starts at the top and flows throughout the Predators organization.

And besides that, it’s pretty damned funny little story!

“Assistant GM might be the best job in hockey. They pay you pretty well; you get to make decisions, but if they don’t work out, your name is not on it…. [as AGM in Nashville,] I remember saying in David [Poile]’s office one day, ‘Let’s trade this guy? What about this? Have you called this team?’ David looked at me and said, ‘Do you know what it’s like to make that phone call and uproot their entire family, their life, their kids? Have you ever fired anybody?’ ‘Ahh, No.’ ‘Well, then shut the fuck up. You have no idea what it’s like.’” — Ray Shero

A Special Place in Time
Every NHL fan base feels connected to their team; it’s human nature. And when they win, everybody feels the love. When they lose – well, you know what happens when they lose.

And in comparing the three things that last forever – even in a hockey context – we may not remember the faith we once had in our team; we may lose hope that they’ll ever come through; but we’ll always remember the love – painful as it can be sometimes – until the day we die.

Love is both the payoff and the penalty in any emotional investment we make; that’s a true statement for fans and in my opinion, it’s also true for the Nashville Predators. That’s why I believe a city that reveres honesty, hard work, and integrity such as ours so readily identifies with their efforts, their philosophy, and their tactics.

Love is eternal; David Poile, Barry Trotz, and all the other men and women who implement their collective vision, unfortunately are not. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that as long as Nashville’s own dynamic duo is around, they’re not gonna go changin’ anytime soon; and for Preds fans, that’s an exciting proposition indeed.

It has been a slow, steady process for this team to get to the place they now appear to be. Whether Nashville bows in the first round or goes all the way to capture its first Stanley Cup in 2012, this is the beginning of a very special time in Predators history; a special place in time. Embrace it, fans.

Feel the love!

 

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finis

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4 Responses to “Faith, Hope, & Love – in a Hockey Context (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. amy anderson April 14, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    I think i needed this ! Last nite I was ready for heads to roll! lol This is a great piece, AJ. You should be commended.

    • AJ in Nashville April 14, 2012 at 8:17 am #

      I really appreciate that Amy! I had no idea how something along these lines would be received. This helps me a great deal! :) Thanks for reading and, as always, for taking the time to comment!

  2. Cisar April 15, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Good work, AJ. Love the Shero quote.

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