His name is David Poile, and he's the general manager of the Washington Capitals. There was a Save the Caps ticket-selling campaign under way when Poile was hired on Aug. 30, 1982, but 11 days later he saved the Caps himself by stealing defensemen Rod Langway and Brian Engblom and forwards Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin from Montreal and assembling a team that made the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in Washington's nine-year hockey history. The Caps were the only team to win a 1983 playoff game on Long Island, but the champion Islanders sent them home early. Poile was named the game's executive of the year, and the Caps' main man, Langway, was named the best defenseman. Scrap that recent refrain about the nation's capital: First in war, first in peace, last in the National Hockey League.
Then Poile launched a campaign last summer to dispose of those players in their late 20s and early 30s. No reason for a 35-year-old general manager to have any players in his own age bracket. Poile was putting together the youngest team in the NHL—"Kids who could grow as Washington Capitals," he said—and one that raced through the preseason with the league's best record. No doubt about it: The Caps were going to knock those Redskins right off the sports pages.
"We had all these great expectations," Poile says, "and then...."
And then the Capitals lost their first seven games of the season.
"We were so young, we were panicking," says Bobby Carpenter, the 20-year-old center. Or, as coach Bryan Murray says, "We looked like we were playing with cement sticks."
Poile shakes his head. "After those seven straight losses," he says, "we were 14 points behind the first-place Rangers in our division. You couldn't possibly be any worse off than we were."
So, what does the general manager do when his team is going down the tubes?
"You don't panic," he says. "You bite the bullet and hope things turn around."
On Sunday night in Boston the Caps beat the Bruins 2-1. No, it wasn't Washington's first victory of the season. In fact, it was the Caps' sixth in a row, their 20th in the last 25 games, their 42nd of the season—and it kept them just two points behind the first-place Islanders in the Patrick Division. The Rangers? They're down there in third place.