Decision to sign two draft picks illustrates shift in Preds' attitude toward Russian prospects

For some time, the Nashville Predators showed no interest in drafting players from Russia.

That philosophy changed last year and the switch in philosophy was cemented Friday when the Predators signed two Russians, second-round picks in each of the last two drafts, to entry-level contracts.

Vladislav Kamenev (42nd overall, 2014) and Yakov Trenin (55th overall, 2015) are under contract and officially a part of the team’s future.

In 2003 and 2004 the Predators drafted six Russian players but only one of them, Alexander Radulov, ever signed and came to North America. Ultimately, the Radulov thing did not work out too well when he elected to go home and sign a contract with the Kontinental Hockey League despite the fact that he still had a year to go in his entry-level deal with Nashville.

From 2005 through 2013, Nashville did not draft a single player out of Russia.

Trenin is an exception because he already is in North America. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound center scored 67 points (18 goals, 49 assists) last season as a rookie for Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

At 18 years old, he must return to the QMJHL this season if he is not in the NHL roster, which almost certainly will be the case.

Kamenev, on the other hand, played the last two seasons with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.

General manager David Poile said last week that the decision to sign Kamenev was made because the 6-foot-3, 182-pound forward planned to play in North America this season. The plan is for him to spend the season at Milwaukee (AHL).

Both players currently are participating in the Predators prospects camp, which concludes with a scrimmage, 11 a.m. Saturday at Ford Ice Center.
 

Jul 10, 2015 11:44 AM

As Preds seek smaller defensemen, one sizable prospect stands out

The last time the Nashville Predators had a 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive prospect things turned out well.

Jonathan Diaby is by no means Shea Weber but his physical attributes are eerily similar.

“Those are big shoes to fill in,” Diaby said Tuesday during the Predators prospects camp. “One day you never know. I’m in the minors trying to work but yeah maybe one day we can play together on the same team and play to win some championships.”

Much like Weber, Diaby is known as a physical defenseman who is a punishing force on the blue line. One of the advantages of his game is he has a nasty edge to go along with good skating ability. At 20 years old and with one full professional season behind him, he already has filled out his large frame after his first full season as a pro, which bodes well for his physical style of play. He appeared in 52 games for Milwaukee (AHL) last season and two others with Cincinnati (ECHL).

“I’m pretty happy with the year I had in Milwaukee last year,” Diaby said. “I improved a lot. I learned a lot of things down in the AHL. Coach helped me a lot and so did the guys on the team too. I’m just looking forward to another great year and looking forward to getting some leadership and to just do good.

“I feel like I’m more consistent than I used to be. I went to Cincinnati for a week and played a few games there and came back and had a lot more confidence with the puck, without the puck, and just making plays on the ice and playing with more confidence.”

However, not everyone is buying into the bigger is better mentality when it comes to defenseman.

The Predators drafted Diaby in third round (64th overall) in 2013 but general manager David Poile said last week that the team’s interest in bulky defensemen has decreased recently.

“Now, the defensemen we're drafting are not as big as they used to be because of the speed of the game and the skill of the game,” Poile said. “It's the Ryan Ellis' and Duncan Keith's that seem to be more prototypical than a 6-foot-4 guy."

Diaby is undeterred.

“I say that as long as you can play … ,” he said. “I’m a taller, bigger guy but I can skate pretty well and I’ll keep working on the footwork and everything. There are more small guys but I feel in the corner being the bigger guy I can get the puck more. And so as long as I can keep moving well I think I will be fine.”

He’s certainly dreaming big for the coming season.

“To get a few games in with the Nashville Predators, absolutely,” he said of his primary goal. “Yeah, that would be a successful year for me to get to play in the big league.”

-- By MICHAEL GALLAGHER
PostSports

Jul 8, 2015 6:13 AM

Clune sees potential for big payoff in being bought out by Predators

For Rich Clune, getting bought out by the Nashville Predators could pay off a dream come true.

It might just lead to a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which would be no small thing for the 28-year-old Toronto native who grew up a Leafs fan.

First, though, the tough guy forward has to fight his way up a crowded organizational depth chart.

Clune signed with the Toronto Marlies (the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate) over the weekend. A two-way deal that included an NHL salary was not available because the NHL club already was approaching the 50-player limit, but the deal did include a spot at training camp this fall.

“I wanted to be a Leaf," he said, according to a story Monday on the Maple Leafs website. "And I guess both sides got creative on how we can make this work and just basically the contract with the Marlies is weighed out and it’s a very good opportunity. It’s an interesting scenario for me to come to camp and earn an NHL deal through my play and progress and I just basically couldn’t pass it up.”

Clune was one of two players whose contracts were bought out by the Predators recently. Viktor Stalberg signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal with the New York Rangers on the opening day of free agency.

Clune played one game for Nashville last season and spent most of 2014-15 with Milwaukee (AHL). He has played 120 career NHL games, all but 14 of them with the Predators, including a career-high 58 in 2013-14.

“It’s weird," he said, via the Leafs website. "In my heart once I knew I was getting bought out by Nashville and becoming a free agent and I can remember having a conversation with my agent before things got underway and I said ‘I would want to play in Toronto, for the Leafs.' And my agent was like ‘OK’.

“It just so happens that Toronto reached out to them and they basically made the offer.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Jul 6, 2015 2:41 PM

Predators face possibility of league-high arbitration hearings

David Poile never has enjoyed arbitration.

The Nashville Predators general manager is going to have to work a little harder in the next couple weeks if he is going to avoid it this year.

Three Nashville players – forwards Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and Taylor Beck (pictured) – were among the 23 players who filed for salary arbitration. Only two other franchises, Arizona and Calgary, had that many players elect to take part in the process.

Eligible players had until 4 p.m. (CDT) Sunday to opt in. Teams have until 4 p.m. (CDT) Monday to choose arbitration for any others.

Smith, 25, tied for second on the team last season with 23 goals and became one of three players drafted by the Predators to score 20 or more goals for them in consecutive seasons (24 in 2013-14). He earned $2 million in 2014-15.

Wilson, 25, set a career-high with 20 goals last season then added five more in six playoff games. He earned $2.5 million last season.

Beck, 24, was a full-time NHL player for the first time in 2014-15 and finished with eight goals and eight assists in 62 appearances. He earned the NHL minimum, $550,000, last season.

Arbitration pits player against team in a contest to determine the player’s salary for the next one or two seasons. Both sides present their cases to an independent third party, who rules within 48 hours of the hearing. The team must either pay what the arbitrator says or walk away, which makes the player a free agent.

This year’s hearings will take place from July 20 through August 4.

MAKING THEIR CASE
A look at the NHL players who filed for salary arbitration prior to Sunday’s deadline:

Arizona: Mikkel Boedker, Phil Samuelsson, Brendan Shinnimin

Buffalo: Phil Varone

Calgary: Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, Josh Jooris

Colorado: Andrew Agozzino , Mathew Clark

Detroit: Gustav Nyquist

Minnesota: Erik Haula

Nashville: Taylor Beck, Craig Smith, Colin Wilson

New Jersey: Eric Gélinas , Adam Larsson

N.Y. Rangers: Derek Stepan

Ottawa: Alex Chiasson, Mike Hoffman

Philadelphia: Michael Del Zotto

St. Louis: Magnus Paajarvi

Washington: Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson

The sides can continue to negotiate a contract up until the time the arbitrator rules. In 2002, Nashville and goalie Mike Dunham came to terms on a deal after the parties had arrived in Toronto for their hearing, which then never took place. The same thing happened a year later with defenseman Kimmo Timonen.

Last year, defenseman Mattias Ekholm agreed to a two-year deal with the team a week after he filed for arbitration.

The last time Nashville completed the arbitration process with a player was 2011, when Shea Weber was awarded a one-year, $7.5 million, the largest arbitration deal in NHL history. Weber asked for $8.5 million. The Predators countered with a $4.5 million deal.

Poile was upbeat following that ruling and said it affirmed Weber’s place as one of the game’s best defensemen.

Typically, though, he has expressed concern about negative feelings that can result. That was the case in 1999 when the Predators traded forward Denny Lambert even after the arbitrator ruled in their favor.
 

Jul 6, 2015 5:15 AM

One NHLer, two minor leaguers sign one-year deals with Predators

The Nashville Predators engaged in a little diversified spending Thursday morning, but it had nothing to do with the future.

They made short-term investments in three players. One who has been a part of the team for the past several seasons. One was acquired a day earlier in a trade and the other was a minor league free agent.

Forward Gabriel Bourque, center Max Reinhart and defenseman Conor Allen all agreed to one-year deals.

The rundown:

• Bourque (pictured) became the first of this year’s restricted free agents whose rights Nashville retained to re-sign. He accepted the club’s qualifying offer of one-year, $866,250. That’s a bump of nearly 12 percent from his 2014-15 salary of $775,000.

Following a career-high 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 2013-14, his production decreased by half (three goals, 10 assists) last season. Likewise, his average ice time dropped from 13:48 to 12:11. Either he will re-establish himself as a quality role player or the Predators, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2009, will move on.

• Reinhart, acquired in a trade with Calgary on Wednesday, agreed to a two-way deal for an NHL salary of $575,000 and an AHL salary of $80,000. A third-round selection by the Flames in 2010, he has made 23 NHL appearances in his career.

“He’s a young guy that was rated pretty high coming out of junior hockey but just hasn’t lived up to his advance billing or what his own expectations are,” general manager David Poile said. “So we’ll see how that works out. … Realistically, he’ll probably be one of our top two centers down in Milwaukee.”

• Allen is a 25-year-old who has played one full professional season. He spent most of 2014-15 with the New York Rangers’ AHL affiliate, Hartford. He had six goals and 25 assists in 72 games there. His two-way deal is the same as Reinhart’s, $575,000 in the NHL and $80,000 in the AHL.

The Predators’ top eight defenseman on the NHL roster are set, which means Allen’s addition is strictly about organizational depth.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 2, 2015 12:26 PM

Predators finally set at center, but for how long?

Much of David Poile’s attention for the last week has centered on centers.

Undeniably, the efforts of the Nashville Predators general manager have provided some much needed clarity for the position, both for the present and future. He signed two veterans to new contracts, acquired two more – one in free agency and one in a trade – and used the majority of the team’s seven draft picks to secure the rights to some others.

There’s one thing, though, that he does not -- and cannot – know. When will the present give way to the future?

“I’m realistic that we have two 35-year-old centers that we eventually have to replace,” Poile said Wednesday. “Whether that’s in two years, three years … I’ve said to both of them I hope they play a lot longer than that. But you just never know when Father Time catches up to you.”

The 35-year-olds are Mike Fisher (pictured) and Mike Ribeiro, both of whom re-signed with the team in recent days. Fisher agreed to a two-year, $8.8 million deal last Friday and Ribeiro signed on for two years and $7 million on Wednesday.

The plan is for them to center the Predators’ first two lines.

Also Wednesday, Nashville signed 25-year-old free agent Cody Hodgson with the idea that he would be the third-line center, a move that will force Calle Jarnkrok to play right wing. Paul Gaustad is locked in the middle of the fourth line.

Later Wednesday, the Predators acquired 23-year-old Max Reinhart to provide center depth at Milwaukee. There he will carve out a role amongst other centers Colton Sissons, a long-time Nashville prospect, and 2014 draft pick Vladislav Kamenev, who is expected to sign an entry-level contest next week.

In between the Fisher deal and all of Wednesday’s activity, Nashville used its first three picks (and four of seven overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft on centers.

“(Fisher) and (Ribeiro) are our two oldest guys that eventually will have to be replaced,” Poile said. “But we’ve been drafting centers the last couple of years, whether it be Kamenev a year ago or the centers that we drafted in our first two picks this year or now that we’ve signed Cody Hodgson. I think we realize where we’re eventually going to have to be.

“That’s a thing that’s an easy sell to a Cody Hodgson. ‘You play here, you could be moving up the chain real fast.’”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Jul 1, 2015 10:12 PM

Hodgson's deal with Predators pales in comparison to last contract

It was not that long ago that the Buffalo Sabres saw Cody Hodgson as a player they around which they could build.

Suddenly the 25-year-old center has to try to rebuild his reputation as an emerging offensive star with the Nashville Predators.

He signed a one-year, $1.05 million deal with Nashville on Wednesday, the first day of the NHL’s free agency signing period.

Hodgson, the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft by Vancouver, was available because earlier this week Buffalo bought out the final four years of the six-year, $25.5 million contract he signed prior to 2013-14. It looked like he would be worth every penny when he scored 20 goals and had 44 points in the first year of that deal but he slipped to just 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 72 games last season.

Buffalo would have preferred to trade him but the contract made any such move unlikely. Because Hodgson is younger than 26, though, the cost and cap hit to the Sabres is relatively low.

Likewise, the Predators assume a small risk in terms of money and the term of this deal but hope for a significant payoff. Hodgson’s career-highs for goals (20), assists (24) and points (44) all came in that 2013-14 season but he did score 15 goals or more twice previously, including 2011-12 when he was a 21-year-old.

Buffalo was last in the league in goals per game last season while Nashville finished 14th. No doubt the thought is that his production will return if he plays with better offensive players in an attacking system.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Jul 1, 2015 1:36 PM

Jackman faced Predators enough to know what he signed up for

It cost the Nashville Predators twice as much money and twice as much time this year to get a veteran defenseman.

Barret Jackman, a 34-year-old who has spent his entire NHL career with the St. Louis Blues, agreed to a two-year, $4 million deal with the Predators on Wednesday, fewer than two hours into the start of the league’s free agency signing period.

Jackman will earn $2 million a season for each of the next two seasons and will fill the roster spot of Anton Volchenkov, who signed with the Predators a year ago for one year and $1 million.

He certainly should know exactly what he is getting into. Jackman’s 63 career appearances against Nashville are more than he’s played against any other team.

SWITCHING SIDES
A look at the teams Barrett Jackman has faced most often in his career:

Nashville – 63 games (1 goal, 7 assists, 107 penalty minutes)
Chicago – 62 games (1 goal, 10 assists, 67 penalty minutes)
Columbus – 56 games (3 goals 14 assists, 111 penalty minutes)
Minnesota – 41 games (3 goals, 3 assists, 16 penalty minutes)
Dallas – 41 games (1 goal, 5 assists, 56 penalty minutes)
Los Angeles – 40 games (2 goals, 7 assists, 59 penalty minutes)
Vancouver – 40 games (1 goal, 10 assists, 31 penalty minutes)

Jackman was the 17th overall pick in 1999 and made his NHL debut in 2001-02. He has played 803 career games and accumulated 181 points (28 goals, 153 assists). He also has 1,026 career penalty minutes, including 97 two seasons ago.

He never has scored more than four goals in a season so his role is clear. He will kill penalties and provide net protection for a team that is loaded with defensemen willing and able to carry the puck on the attack.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 1, 2015 12:56 PM

Ribeiro accepts two-year contract offer to remain with Predators

The Nashville Predators won’t have to try to replace Mike Ribeiro after all.

The 35-year-old center accepted the team’s two-year, $7 million contract offer ($3.5 million each of the next two seasons) and re-signed with Nashville on Wednesday. The agreement capped a tense several days of negotiations with a player who turned out to be one of last season’s best free agent bargains.

TSN first reported the deal about an hour before the start of the NHL’s free agent signing period. The Predators formally confirmed it a little more than an hour later.

Had he rejected the Predators’ offer, which makes him the team’s third highest paid forward, Ribeiro would have been one of the most talented free agents on the market this season.

His value, however, was clouded by a civil lawsuit filed by a former nanny who alleged sexual misconduct and sought monetary damages. A recent filing in that matter contained graphic allegations. No criminal charges have been filed.

Nashville general manager David Poile stressed Tuesday that he considers Ribeiro a valuable team member and a positive force in the locker room and the community.

“We’re confident … he can be a key part of our team moving forward,” Poile said. “… It’s very important to me to have integrity and to bring [high] character people to our organization.

“Mike was a good teammate and was a productive player.”

On the ice, Ribeiro was the Predators’ No. 1 center in 2014-15. His 62 points (15 goals, 47 assists) were second to Filip Forsberg and his assists total was the fourth highest in franchise history.

He did all of that after the Arizona Coyotes bought out his contract and labeled him a character risk. Nashville signed him to a one-year, $1.05 million contract that was a far cry from the $5.5 million he was scheduled to earn in Year Two of the four-year contract he had with the Coyotes. He will get another $1.44 million from that deal this season.

“From the beginning of last year, for [Poile] and [Head Coach] Peter [Laviolette] to believe in me and to be supportive of me and help me through this, I think it was a great fit,” Ribeiro said in a release from the team. “People believe in the team and that was one of the reasons I wanted to come back. The players, the coaches and David, they believed in me. They supported me throughout the year last year and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 1, 2015 11:32 AM

Predators got little in free agency recently, don't need much this year

The Nashville Predators don’t feel as if they need much from the free agent signing period, which begins at 11 a.m. (CDT) Wednesday.

That’s probably a good thing given that they have not gotten much of a return on many of their free agent investments the last two years.

Only four of the nine players signed in 2013 and 2014 played out their full contracts – and three of those came to the Predators on one-year deals. Three others were traded without having played one full season in Nashville.

General manager David Poile admitted his latest mistake this week when he bought out the final two years of Viktor Stalberg’s contract. The move cost the team a little more than $3.3 million up front but will provide close to $3 million of cap space each of the next two years.

Stalberg (pictured) was signed to be a first or second-line forward and power play mainstay. Instead he was a part-time player who spent time at Milwaukee this season and never scored a single power play goal.

“Viktor Stalberg was a little bit of an enigma for us,” Poile said. “I think it would be fair to say that it didn’t work out for either one of us. … It’s regrettable that we’ve (bought him out) but we’ve done it and we’re now moving forward.”

MONEY WELL SPENT?
A look at the free agents the Nashville Predators signed the last two years and what the team got out of those players:

2013
• Viktor Stalberg (four years, $12 million) – Played 95 games and scored 10 goals in two seasons after which his contract was bought out.
• Eric Nystrom (four years, $10 million) – Tied his career-high with 21 points in 2013-14, became a fourth-line forward last season under Peter Laviolette.
• Matt Hendricks (four years, $7.4 million) – Played just 44 games before he was traded to Edmonton halfway through the first year of his deal.
• Matt Cullen (two years, $7 million) – Did not produce as much offense as hoped but was a reliable and versatile forward the last two seasons.
• Carter Hutton (one year, $550,000-x) – Parlayed that first deal into a two-year contract that cements his spot as a full-time NHL backup.

2014
• Olli Jokinen (one year, $2.5 million) – Scored just six points in 48 games before he was traded to Toronto in a deadline deal.
• Mike Ribeiro (one year, $1.05 million) – One of Nashville’s all-time great free agent bargains. A risk that paid off to the tune of 47 assists and 62 points.
• Anton Volchenkov (one year, $1 million) – An underrated, if unspectacular addition last season, he was the reliable defensive presence the team wanted/needed.
• Derek Roy (one year, $1 million) – Played just 26 games and scored one goal before he was shipped off to Edmonton.

Ribeiro accepted Nashville’s two-year, $7 million offer Wednesday morning, just before the start of free agency. That meant there was one less hole the team needed to fill.

“I think we’re in real good shape with our goaltending,” Poile said. “… I’m prepared to go with the forwards that we currently have. … I’m going to be at least looking for some possibilities of replacing Volchenkov, maybe with a similar type of player.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Jul 1, 2015 10:55 AM