The Poile Era
Twenty-five years ago today, the Washington Capitals named David Poile as their general manager. Poile’s appointment came just three days after the Caps informed interim general manager Roger Crozier that he would not be leading the team into the 1982-83 season.
Crozier’s departure was announced in a 4 p.m. press release on a Friday afternoon. At 11 a.m. on the following Monday, the team held a press conference to announce that Poile, then 33 years old and the youngest general manager in the league, would succeed Crozier.
As you might surmise with that short turnaround between the firing of Crozier and the hiring of Poile, talks had been in the works. Poile had been the Atlanta/Calgary Flames’ assistant general manager under Cliff Fletcher, and Fletcher had been asked for permission to negotiate with Poile three weeks before the hiring was announced.
“David is capable, and a logical candidate for the job,” Fletcher said in the Aug. 29, 1982 edition of The Washington Post. “The only difficulty is taking over a team two weeks before training camp begins.”
As hindsight shows, that wasn’t much of a difficulty. First, the Caps had a pretty good nucleus in place at the time.
“I helped build a helluva hockey club for them,” noted Crozier, the only man ever to serve in the capacities of player, coach and general manager for the Capitals.
He also correctly noted that then-owner Abe Pollin already had his successor lined up.
“I can only wish him good luck, because that is my team,” said Crozier, in the Aug. 28, 1982 edition of The Journal Messenger. “I believe we have done enough good things that the team is going to win. We made all the moves we could.
“The new guy has a solid foundation to build on. This is going to be a really exciting and competitive hockey club. It would be a real shame if a new guy comes in and tries to unravel this thing, because we are in pretty good shape right now.”
Poile was smart enough to both build on the foundation and not unravel “the thing.” A mere 10 days after taking the job, he “took” Canadiens general manager Irving Grundman in a swap that stands as the best in Washington’s franchise history.
Poile also knew that Crozier was right. He was sliding into a pretty strong situation on the ice.
“I would never have accepted this job if I did not believe the Capitals would make the playoffs in 1982-83,” said Poile at that Monday press conference. “This thing is going to work. We’re not here for a good time; we’re here for a long time.”
Right he was.
The Capitals made the playoffs in 1982-83, touching off a run in which they earned a postseason berth in 14 consecutive campaigns. In 1996-97 that streak ended, as did Poile’s decade-and-a-half run as Washington’s general manager.
Ironically, the Caps announced a trade in between the GM tenures of Crozier and Poile. On Sat. Aug. 28, the team announced that it had traded a sixth-round choice in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft and a fifth-round choice in 1984 to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Dave Hutchison and left wing Ted Bulley. Crozier had agreed to the deal with Chicago general manager Bob Pulford two days before he was relieved of his duties, but the Caps announced the swap a day after Crozier’s departure.
According to a Post report at the time, Crozier had rejected a Pulford proposal some eight months earlier (in Dec. 1981) that would have brought center Glen Sharpley and defenseman Doug Crossman to Washington in exchange for the Capitals’ first-round choice in the 1982 Entry Draft. Not only did Crozier turn that deal down, it was he who insisted the Caps use that choice to take Kitchener Rangers defenseman Scott Stevens.