Following the 2023 NHL Draft, David Poile retired after 25 years as the general manager of the Nashville Predators, putting a stamp on his Hall of Fame career.
Over the last few weeks, Nashville Hockey Now has taken a look at some of his best and worst draft classes as well as his best and worst trades. We’ve now turned our attention to the moves he made during free agency.
Nick Kieser broke down Poile’s worst free-agent signings, and today we examine his best, taking into account the player’s consistency — both in production and health — as well as the contract types in tandem with the position the organization was in at the time. Even with a buyout target on this list, Poile had strong success in finding specific free-agent needs at the right time.
Below are the five Predators best free-agent signings from Poile’s tenure:
No. 5 – Tom Fitzgerald, RW
No list of top Predators free agents is complete without the first captain in franchise history. Fitzgerald set the tone for what it meant to be a Predator with the origination of the gritty, hard-nosed style that Barry Trotz was always known for as a coach. Fitzgerald wasn’t praised for his scoring prowess, but his tenacity and leadership qualities were well-known before he became a Predators’ fixture.
Fitzgerald played in 244 of 246 games through his first three seasons with an additional 63 games in his fourth before being dealt to Chicago during the 2001-2002 season. Fitzgerald helped establish the blueprint for the original “Predator Way.”
No. 4 – Dan Ellis, G
Following the departure of Tomas Vokoun and prior to the emergence of Pekka Rinne, Nashville had an impressive, under-the-radar platooning situation in net with Dan Ellis and Chris Mason. A perennial minor leaguer, Ellis was the perfect low-risk signing on a one-year, $500,000 deal to challenge Mason for the starting job.
Ellis proved his worth in his first season where he tallied a strong 2.34 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage through 44 games. He had a strong performance in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs though Nashville fell to eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit in six games. However, he put on one of the team’s most impressive playoff performance to date, logging a 2.00 GAA and .938 save percentage.
Ellis’ emerging play was likely the reason Mason was traded to the St. Louis Blues in June 2008, and he was rewarded with a two-year, $3.5 million contract extension three days later. Ellis’ time in Nashville was money well spent and ultimately kept the crease warm for the up-and-coming Rinne. Spending $500,000 on a solid, bridge goaltender while waiting for Rinne to rise through the ranks goes down as one of Poile’s most impressive moves that often goes overlooked.
No. 3 – J.P. Dumont, RW
In the fall of 2006, Poile signed one of the better offensive players in franchise history after inking J.P. Dumont to a two-year, $4.5 million contract following the Buffalo Sabres’ decision to part ways with the third overall pick from the 1996 draft.
Dumont brought solid production and consistency to Nashville (he missed only two games between the regular season and playoffs combined) during his first two years. His 66 points during the 2006-07 season, followed by his 72 points in the 2007-08 season, led Poile to reward the soon-to-be 30-year-old with a four-year, $16 million contract extension on January 2008.
Dumont was a consistent presence in the lineup over the next three seasons, but his production began to taper off after the 2008-09 season in which he tallied 65 points before falling off to 45 in 2009 and just 19 in 2010. The sudden decline led Poile to buy out the last year of Dumont’s contract, but that doesn’t downgrade his previous success. The French Canadian was — and continues to be — a Nashville favorite.
No. 2 – Jason Arnott, C
Arnott joined the Predators in the summer of 2006, signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract, but his claim to fame began years before. In Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final, he scored the game-winner in double overtime to help the New Jersey Devils beat the Dallas Stars for the Stanley Cup championship. Arnott was the first player to wear a Predators uniform to win a Stanley Cup, which was a big deal for a young, hockey market.
He brought a big, dominant presence to the center position. The veteran immediately took his place as a leader in the locker room and was named the fourth captain in franchise history in September 2007 following the trade of Kimmo Timonen earlier that summer. While Arnott was on the backend of his career by the time he came to Nashville, he remained a consistent points producer during his four years. He eclipsed the 30-goal mark in 2008, setting the single season goal-scoring record before it was broken by Viktor Arvidsson and later Matt Duchene. Arnott ended his time in Nashville having played 275 games, scoring 107 goals and 229 points.
No. 1 – Paul Kariya, LW
The No. 4 overall pick in 1993 was undoubtedly the most notable player to ever wear the Predators jersey until the trade for Peter Forsberg prior to the 2007 trade deadline.
Nashville signed Paul Kariya to a two-year, $9 million deal coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, and while his tenure in Nashville was only two years, the team got its first glimpse of a future Hall of Famer who was worth every penny. Kariya played in every game over the course of his two seasons while producing at a near point-per-game clip (55 goals, 161 points in 164 games) and he did the same during the playoffs with seven points in ten games.
Kariya was the first domino to fall in Poile’s attempt at reinventing the Predators from a small-market franchise in the salary-cap era to one that could land some of the NHL’s premier free agents. Absent this singing (among a few others) it’s possible the July 2007 “Save Our Preds” rally doesn’t happen and the NHL never realizes the potential of hockey in a southern market like Nashville.
Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10