Cut David Poile some slack. Not so much with the players he selected for Team USA’s roster for the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games, or related, the players he did not select for that team, but for what he did in response Thursday.
As general manager, the same position he holds with the Nashville Predators, the buck eventually stops with him for the 25 players who were named to the team Wednesday following the NHL’s annual Winter Classic. So those who think that Bobby Ryan, Keith Yandle, or any of the other roster omissions deserved to be there are perfectly within their rights to speak their minds about them not being on the team.
But immediately following the team’s announcement, two stories were published, written by journalists who were embedded with Team USA’s management team as they made their way through the difficult process of picking the team.
Both Kevin Allen of USA Today and Scott Burnside of ESPN.com put out thorough accounts of how the roster came to be. Both Allen and Burnside are highly experienced hockey scribes and both did excellent pieces detailing the sometimes harsh discussions that took place over the last several months.
Things that are said all the time behind closed doors among leadership groups of NHL teams were suddenly published for all to read. That kind of access is basically unprecedented in the hockey world, and while that is great, things were said, and in turn published, that led to some hurt feelings.
Probably unsurprisingly, the most direct comments about a player came from Brian Burke about Ryan, a player he had when he was general manager of the Anaheim Ducks.
"He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary," Burke was quoted as saying. "It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."
But don’t think for a second that those things aren’t said around management tables in all NHL cities just about every day. Burke is known as being a brutally honest “tell it like it is” kind of a guy; in short, a reporter’s dream.
Burnside’s piece even goes on to quote Burke as saying he should have drafted Jack Johnson over Ryan.
In a pair of interviews Thursday afternoon, Poile sounded upset about some of the things that appeared in Allen and Burnside’s articles.
He did not deny that those things were said, they were, but the fact that they came to light was not something he had envisioned.
While Poile didn’t say it, the fact that reporters were invited into the process did not appear to be his idea. He is an old-school guy, so things that are said behind closed doors usually stay that way. Poile is not one who goes off the record with media members very often either.
“To me, I didn’t like some of the things that were said, and I can see where a couple of players, agents, mangers could be upset with it,” Poile told Sirius XM NHL.
Shortly after that aired, Poile went on NHL Network and gave a very interesting quote early in the interview.
“The seven of us thought we had editorial control, and I guess that was not the case,” he said of his management team.
This is where it became clear that he was not in on the negotiations with the media outlets involved. One would be hard pressed to find a media outlet that would give editorial control to the group they are covering, it just doesn’t happen that way.
No reporter is going to sit through months of conversations and listen to all of the verbal bombs that were dropped in them and then use quotes related to Ryan Suter being a great defenseman and having the left side on the top pairing locked down or Patrick Kane can really score goals, he should see a lot of ice time.
The reporters wouldn’t be doing their jobs and their editors would be livid with them for filing that kind of fluff. No one wants to read that.
After 30 plus years in the business, Poile probably should have known that, but he doesn’t work in media relations, so he probably deserves a pass, especially if he was told the words “editorial control.” If he is guilty of anything, he probably should have asked more questions to make sure of the ground rules.
He cited HBO’s series 24/7 detailing the road to the Winter Classic where cameras followed the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. Both teams booted the cameras out of their locker rooms at times though. Perhaps Poile could have asked Allen and Burnside to step out of the room when he sensed Burke was going to eviscerate one of the candidates.
So whether USA Hockey told Poile that his team would have editorial control, or there was a miscommunication of epic proportions, he was put in a bad spot.
As expected, Poile handled the tough interview questions with class. He sounded contrite and never once claimed anyone was misquoted, even going as far as to say that everything reported was “accurate and factual” during the NHL Network interview. In the interviews, he mentioned that good and bad things were said about all players, but obviously not all of those things could make it into the stories.
Adding to the damage control element of Thursday and beyond is the fact that Poile may need to add a player or two before the games begin next month should there be injuries to those named Wednesday.
Poile signed up to be the general manager of Team USA, and with that, he accepted the responsibilities associated with picking the team. Even though he wasn’t the one quoted as saying the very negative things about Ryan especially, he stood up and took the questions like a good leader.
Good on him.