General managing his life, David Poile approached the deal with the best of intentions.
"I'd always wanted a sports car," he recalled, "and I finally had a job (as administrative assistant with the Atlanta Flames in '72) and some money. For me, though, everything away from hockey is a very emotional decision."
And that TR6 seemed the Rod Langway of automobiles.
"I'd told myself on the way in that I was going to make a good deal," he said, "and then I saw it sitting there in the showroom. The salesman was smokin' this big cigar and tapping his foot, nodding and nodding. All of a sudden, I burst out saying"--here Poile's voice revved a half-octave in little-boy excitement--" 'I'll take it. Can I drive it out right now?' "
The remembered high faded.
"I ended up paying the full sticker price," said Poile. "I didn't get anything off at all."
That was the problem Abe Pollin had with Washington Capitals' executives before Poile. With draft choices, with trades, they either paid full price when that wasn't always necessary or selected players who very likely were virtuous and vibrant citizens but proved to be jello as hockey cornerstones.
With Poile, Pollin seems to have gotten it right.
Dispassionate and logical, or everything as a rookie general manager that he had not been as a young car shopper a decade earlier, Poile pulled off the gutsy trade that got the Capitals soaring toward respectability before the season began, and then into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He'd been preparing for such a bold move for what seemed like forever. Because he was. Growing up, his family's fate was tied to the fortunes of the teams for which his father played and directed. There may be more brilliant minds in his business, but Poile is the only one able to phone the president of the Central Hockey League and begin the conversation with, "Hi, Dad."
Always, winning felt better than playing well.
"I had great individual stats," he said of his career at Northeastern University. "I led the East in scoring one year, but we had a 3-20 record. Everything in my experience had been based on winning, not individual stuff."
Which partially explains why as a youngster he collected baseball cards but never got involved in trading them. Sporting substance seemed better than style. That's why, unemotionally, he was able to judge that a Langway and a Brian Englom would mean more, on the ice, than good-skate Ryan Walter.
Now Poile, a few days into training camp, sits back at what he and Coach Brian Murray have created and likes it. Of the 47 players here, 36 were in the organization last year. Most teams in most sports win grandly with such a philosophy: draft wisely, trade infrequently but judiciously, promote from within.
Long before he got his own team to run, the 33-year-old Poile worked at being a general manager.
"It would get frustrating at times," he admitted. "I'd go dashing to Cliff (Fletcher, with the Flames in Atlanta and later in Calgary) and say, 'Why don't we do this? Why don't we do that?' He'd look at me (his face a mask of exasperation) and say, 'This is what we are doing. I am the general manager.'
"But it was a healthy relationship. And a lot of things I'd say off the cuff as an assistant manager, now that I reflect back, would have been crazy things to do. Not the right decisions at all. Emotional things. Like after a poor game saying to get rid of this guy or that guy, that we can't possibly win with him on the team.
"That was my immaturity.
"What I've been happiest with myself (in his one-plus years with the Capitals) is being able to stand back and look at things very objectively." That's after his stomach and nerves do lift-offs and free-falls every few seconds during games.
Poile prods his enthusiasm throughout the organization. He is able to say, with equal parts wryness and honesty, before the semifinals of an intrasquad tournament, "This is our most important game of the year."
Like his counterparts in the other major sports, Poile often must work to create leisure.
"Nice to have you here," his wife, Elizabeth, will say when Poile's face is fogged over with thought, "but you haven't been with us today."
He finally has an athletic chemistry set--and loves to tinker.
"It's always with you," he admitted.
When someone wondered if this stability theme, in word and deed, meant the Capitals can win the Stanley Cup with this nucleus, Poile recoiled.
"That's going a bit far," he said. "Our whole organization got good recognition for what we did last year, because of the good season we had and the progress we made. But one season doesn't make a career, for any of us. In some ways, we're a lot like the Redskins. They won the Super Bowl, but that was 1982. What will 1983 bring? They have to define their style and character all over again.
"So do we.
"Right now, the players are a very harmonious group off the ice. And yet in scrimmages they're very competitive, very feisty. As a manager, you can't ask for anything more . . . so far, we're right on target."