All through the offseason, the Nashville Predators have been linked as trade partners with the Philadelphia Flyers, the latter sending the former Vinny Lecavalier to play center on a top line now featuring talented winger James Neal.
The teams have been unable to work out a deal, likely hemmed up by the Predators not wanting to pay a contract that owes the 34-year-old $16.5 million over the next four seasons.
Today, the Predators added two centers who will cost them far, far less.
At 10:37 a.m., the team announced it had signed a one-year, $1.05 million deal for former Coyote Mike Ribeiro, bought out by Arizona, with the team's GM citing "behavioral issues" from the 34-year-old. At 11:20 a.m., the team announced a one-year, $1 million deal for 31-year old Derek Roy, most recently of the St. Louis Blues.
Combined with the earlier signing of former Calgary Flame Olli Jokinen, the Preds have added three centers, all on one-year deals, for a total of $4.55 million (for comparison, Lecavalier's cap number is $4.5 million per year until 2018).
All three are very low-risk deals for aging players who have all played top-level minutes in the past, though there are red flags with today's two signings.
To his credit, Ribeiro (pictured) was out in the open at the press conference. He alluded to a battle with addicition — though he did not go into specifics — and used the word "family" dozens of times in explaining why he wanted to play in Nashville.
"We did research as a family … as a family, we looked around the league and we had friends that played here. [Former Predator] Francis Bouillion, my wife is good friends with his wife. It's a city that's family-oriented. Nashville was the best for us. It's a healthy community. It was important as a family to be here," the Montreal-born Ribeiro said.
He said his struggles in the desert — his 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) were the lowest in more than 10 years — were due, in part, to being separated from his wife and three children.
"I didn't see my children during the year … I just wanted the year to be over. I wanted to be a healthy person. I think my head is really clear and I have my family with me now," he said.
Ribeiro was contrite, disarming and funny during his first meeting with the Nashville media. For example, when David Poile mentioned his new signings would all have different roles, Ribeiro joked that he is not "a big blocked-shots guy."
Even that bon mot is an indication the Predators are looking to head in a different direction. Had former coach Barry Trotz heard that, Ribeiro would have been on doghouse watch from Day One.
Perhaps even more interestingly, in another offseason where top-flight free agents have headed elsewhere and potential trade targets have exercised no-movement clauses to avoid being sent to Nashville, Ribeiro actually sought out the Predators and the city of Nashville, alluding to magazine rankings that rank the city high as a good place to raise a family.
Poile said the center and his wife flew to Nashville on their own dime, spending four days here. Eventually, Poile asked Ribeiro if he wanted to sign with the Predators and Ribeiro said yes.
He may have the chance to play with Neal, with whom he played in Dallas. Neal, Poile said, is the most excited man in the organization and, in another moment of levity, Ribeiro said while Neal is a scorer, he needs someone to "actually get him the puck."
The day's second signing, Roy, isn't without question marks, either. The speedy Roy has struggled with injuries over the last couple of seasons, putting up 37 points in 75 games with St. Louis last season. But, Poile said, Roy's injuries are behind him as well.
"Derek has dealt with knee and shoulder injuries, but he is now 100 percent and is working out on a 12-week program with Gary Roberts in Toronto. And the doctor says Roy is injury-free and in the best shape of his life," Poile said.
What new coach Peter Laviolette and Poile will have to contend with is a bevy of forwards. Poile said the team has 16 "NHL-ready forwards" heading into training camp, with only 13 or 14 spots available. Of those, nine — Ribeiro, Roy, Jokinen, Calle Jarnkrok, Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher (out for four to six months with an injury), Paul Gaustad, Matt Cullen, Colton Sissons and Craig Smith are, at least, positionally centers.
With only Gaustad locked into a spot — his standard role of centering the fourth line and taking the vast majority of defensive-zone face-offs — Poile said there is some flexibility with moving some of those players to the wing (Smith, Jarnkrok, Wilson, Cullen and Jokinen, specifically) but "something has to give."
One year after raising eyebrows by signing "gritty" players to long-term contracts, Poile is taking a wholly different tact, signing players with something to prove to show-me-something deals.