To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. – Winston Chuchill.
David Poile would respectfully disagree.
The Nashville Predators’ general manager might not have the perfect group of defensemen, but it is hard for him to imagine a better one. Thus, he continues to do what he can to ensure that unit won’t change much, if at all, for the foreseeable future.
Monday, Poile signed Mattias Ekholm to a six-year, $22.5 million contract that begins next season, runs through 2021-22 and further guarantees continuity along the blue line. Four of Nashville’s top six at that position now are under contract for at least another three seasons beyond the current one.
It is no secret that he also wants to get something done with Seth Jones, currently in the last year of his entry-level contract, after this season — if not sooner. So the defense as it is right now is the Nashville defense of the future, unless something unexpected happens that prompts Poile to make a trade.
A look at contract status for each of the current Nashville Predators’ defensemen:
• Shea Weber (14 years, $110 million) – signed through 2025-26
• Mattias Ekholm (6 years, $22.5 million) – signed through 2021-22
• Roman Josi (7 years, $28 million) – signed through 2019-20
• Ryan Ellis (5 years, $12.5 million) – signed through 2018-19
• Barret Jackman (2 years, $4 million) – signed through 2016-17
• Seth Jones (3 years, $9.675 million) – signed through 2015-16
• Victor Bartley (3 years, $2 million) – signed through 2015-16
Weber, Josi, Ekholm, Ellis and Jones all were drafted by Nashville and have not been a part of any other NHL organization. Ekholm is the exception, though, in that he was the only one not selected in the first or second round. Ellis and Jones were first-round choices and Weber and Josi were second-round picks.
Nashville got Ekholm in the fourth round (102nd overall) in 2009. He struggled in his first attempt to play in North America (2011-12) and returned to Sweden for the last half of that season. He spent virtually all of 2012-13 at Milwaukee and has been a full-time NHL player for the last two-plus seasons.
In 152 career NHL games, he has registered 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) and 66 penalty minutes.
Nashville begins a four-game road trip Wednesday at San Jose (9:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
(Photo: John Russell/Getty Images)
The Nashville predators hosted their annual Skate of the Union Address Saturday at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch.
As usual, the event served as a regular season primer for fans. Chairman Tom Cigarran, CEO Jeff Cogen, General Manager David Poile, President Sean Henry, and Head coach Peter Laviolette addressed an array of topics including the All-Star weekend, the Predators television schedule, and the new 3-on-3 overtime format.
Some highlights from the forum:
• With Nashville hosting the 2016 NHL All Star Game, fans were curious about securing tickets. The franchise only received 8,000 from the NHL, however, it has asked for more. Cogen echoed the best way to obtain tickets for the All Star game was to become a Nashville Predators season ticket holder.
• For the first time in franchise history, all 82 Nashville Predator games will be on television. Four of those games will be broadcast nationally on NBCSN with the remaining 78 locally on Fox Sports Tennessee.
“Having all the games on broadcast, on television, says to me major league,” Cogen said. “(A few years ago) you really needed a nuclear physicist to guide you through ‘were do I find Predators hockey on TV or radio?’ This says to me a maturation of our team, our market, and our community. I’m proud, it says major league team.”
• Starting with the 2015-16 season, the NHL will implement the new 3-on-3 overtime format. With the reaction around the league being somewhat scattered, General Manager David Poile is a fan of the new overtime format.
“I’m really glad we made the change,” Poile said. “I would love to be a fan watching that (3-on-3). I think it’s going to be fantastic for our players and our fans and it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen. With the parity in the National Hockey League, we could possibly have a quarter of our games decided in this 3-on-3 situation, so it’s imperative that our players and our coaching staff formulate a game plan to be successful.
“It’s going to be something that we’re all going to have to make an adjustment to, and for sure at the end of the day, you’re going to hear something like, ‘this team made the playoffs because of how good they were in 3-on-3.’”
Laviolette understands that the new 3-on-3 overtime format provides teams with a new challenge and another parallel to game planning.
“We’re figuring out 3-on-3,” Laviolette said. “We watched some video, our video coaches those guys do a lot of work for us. They pulled a lot of video from the American Hockey League of some teams that had some success with 3-on-3 and we watched that and kind of got a game plan from there. We’ve now experienced it a couple of times.”
• The team made its first significant roster cuts over the weekend, which reduced to 28 the number of players still in training camp.
“I think in this final week of preparation I do think we need a game plan,” Laviolette said. “I do think you need a protocol on what you’re trying to do, how long your shifts are, where you’re changing on the bench, and who’s taking the faceoff in the defensive zone. So there are a lot of things that we need to go through and work on a progression and we’ll be ready for that opening night.”
• Everyone on the Predators executive panel understands that each NHL team starts the season trying to accomplish the same goal. They also know that the success of the team last year coupled with the hard work in the offseason have fan expectations at an all time high.
“There are a lot of good teams in this League this year,” Poile said. “The good news is we’re one of those teams. We believe in ourselves, and hopefully the confidence and that experience of what we did last year can take us just a little bit further and get to that promised land.”
The Nashville Predators talked about it. Ultimately they decided not too think too much about it.
Pekka Rinne’s workload consistently has been a hot topic at the start of recent seasons. Thursday, when players reported for the start of training camp, the veteran goalie said no one had broached the subject with him and general manager David Poile said factors other than speculation ultimately would determine how much the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist plays.
“He’s a horse,” Poile said. “He loves to play. … You have to go by how well you’re playing as a team, how he is, how his health is, all those types of things.
“… There’s some periods in the schedule where you’re getting a grind of three games in four nights and some travel situations. That, to me, is when you have to be more logical in terms of when you use both your goalies and, specifically, take Pekka out of the lineup.”
Rinne was not as good in the second part of last season as he was at the start. Then, he was not as good in the playoffs as he was during the latter stages of the regular season.
Fatigue was not the issue, Poile said. Pain was.
“The factor was he got hurt a little bit,” the veteran general manager said. “We were in first place when he got hurt. He came back and there were some other factors in terms of our overall play. But I did not think fatigue was a factor.”
Rinne missed three weeks in late January and early February with a lower body injury. He returned to the lineup against Anaheim in what was a matchup of the teams tied for the NHL’s most points at that time. The Predators lost 5-2 but won their next six (Rinne was the winning goalie in five) before a late-season slide cost them a chance to win the Central Division.
His statistics certainly support Poile’s interpretation.
Before the injury, Rinne was 29-6-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. When he returned to the lineup he went 12-11-1 and goals-against climbed to 2.18 and his save percentage rose dipped to .923. In the six-game playoff loss to Chicago he was 2-4 with a 2.68 GAA and a .909 save percentage.
“You go into the season, you want to be in the best shape possible and try to stay healthy and take care of your body and get off to a good start,” Rinne said. “Hopefully you stay healthy and be able to play a lot of games.”
He set the franchise record for games played in 2011-12, when he appeared in 73 contests. That same season the Predators reached the second round of the playoffs for the second time and his playoff numbers (2.07 GAA, .929 save percentage) were better than his regular season stats.
“I’m not too worried about the number [of games],” Rinne said. “Obviously, going deeper this season, you want to feel fresh and be able to give everything you have and help this team. But in the past I’ve played a lot of games and I feel like that helps me, having that experience.
“… You want to be a part of it every single night, but we’ll see how it goes.”
In the meantime, no one feels the need to discuss it.
(Photo: Getty Images)
For the most part, the Nashville Predators already know who their forwards will be.
The issue, an unusual one for a franchise with a defense-rich tradition, is who will play which spots, and how much they’ll play.
The top six are established with Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, Craig Smith, Mike Fisher, and Colin Wilson. There are options for the bottom with at least seven players competing for those spots.
Newcomer Cody Hodgson is expected to take over as the team’s third line center. With that, Paul Gaustad is the fourth center so it is presumed Calle Jarnkrok moves from center to the wing.
That leaves Gabriel Bourque, Eric Nystrom, as well as rookies Kevin Fiala, Steve Moses, Viktor Arvidsson, Austin Watson and Colton Sissons competing for three roster spots.
Bourque and Nystrom have experience on their side. Fiala (pictured) is the Predators’ top draft pick from a year ago and has expressed confidence he will be playing in Nashville next year. Moses has a reputation as a goal scorer. However, that was in the KHL and there is no telling how he will fare in the NHL or if he can adjust his game.
Then throw in wild cards such as Arvidsson who saw playing time in Nashville last year and Watson who hasn't quite broken through like the Predators have hoped and the competition looks fierce.
“The third and fourth lines would be more defensive but we are looking for a little bit more offense from that third line,” general manager David Poile said recently during an interview with 102.5 The Game. “So (we signed) Hodgson in hopes of giving coach [Peter] Laviolette some different options that he can come up with. Also we’re going to give a player like Kevin Fiala a chance to make the team on a regular basis since he’s a top offensive player.”
Poile feels that Fiala opens doors for the Predators offensively – and opens up even more possibilities for the offensive line combinations.
“So what if he makes it and you have a Wilson or a Smith out on the third line if you will? Poile said. “It could be a great spot to do some things offensively from a matchup standpoint.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
David Poile is not interested in love at first sight.
The Nashville Predators general manager believes in a professional courtship, if you will. His theory is that it takes time for two parties to get to know one another, to trust one another, to believe in one another.
There comes a time, though, when commitment is the best option.
The latest examples were the recent deals for 25-year-old forwards Craig Smith (five years, $21.25 million) and Colin Wilson (four years, $15.75 million).
“When a player is in his mid-20s and has been with you for a few years and you believe you know what he’s capable of, I think the best thing to do is for both sides to commit to one another for the long-term or you just move on,” Poile told the Nashville Post last week.
Of course, there’s no such thing as forever in the NHL. Four or five years, in these cases, constitute a long time and even those deals come with no guarantees.
Poile has negotiated similar packages with other notable players throughout the years. Some worked out better than others.
A look at others to whom the Predators have committed, and vice versa under comparable circumstances:
(27 years old)
Six years, $27 million
Why: The deal was done early in the season and went into effect with the start of 2008-09. At the time, the first draft pick in franchise history already was the Predators’ all-time leader in goals, points, game-winning goals and overtime points.
Return on investment (ROI): Legwand scored 20 goals for the first (and only) time in the first season of that contract. At the end of 2007-08 he had 327 points in 549 games (an average of .596 points per game). In 407 games that followed he had 239 points (.587 points per game). Basically, the Predators got what they paid for but not what they hoped for.
(26 years old)
Seven years, $31.5 million
Why: This deal was done shortly after the 2007-08 season, one in which Erat tied his career-high with 57 points and set personal bests in goals (23), game-winning goals (six) and registered his first career hat trick.
ROI: He played almost five of the seven seasons on that deal with Nashville but scored more than 20 goals just once. He did set a career-high with 58 points in 2011-12 and scored four playoff goals (half his current career total) in 2010. Much like Legwand, he remained consistent but never made the offensive jump the franchise anticipated.
(28 years old)
Seven years, $49 million
Why: This deal was done early in the 2011-12 season and was considered a critical first step in the team’s plan to lock up him, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to long-term deals before they became free agents. At that time he already had been a Vezina Trophy finalist once and was on his way to a second.
ROI: He set franchise records with 43 wins and 73 games played in 2011-12 – before the deal took effect. Injuries and illness were issues for the first two seasons but he finally started to deliver a big payoff with 41 wins and 2.18 goals-against average (and a third Vezina Trophy finalist nod) last season. The market for goalies has not quite caught up to this deal but it still looks like a good one.
(27 years old)
Five years, $14.5 million
Why: In the wake of Suter’s departure two months earlier, Nashville was desperate to keep the rest of its core defense intact and executed this deal hours before NHL owners locked out the players for four months. Plus, Klein topped 20 points for the first time in his career the previous season.
ROI: The 2003 second-round pick played just one season and part of another before the Predators traded him to the New York Rangers. In 94 games played under this pact he had just 17 points (four goals, 13 assists). At a time when his experience was supposed to mean the most, management shipped him out to make room for the next round of young defensemen.
(23 years old)
Seven years, $28 million
Why: Having played just one full NHL season (a lockout-shortened season, at that) Josi proved himself a worthwhile complement to defense partner Weber. Rather than risk a repeat of the Ryan Suter fiasco, Predators management convinced the youngster to commit the rest of his 20s to them.
ROI: In the first two seasons of the deal Josi consistently has gotten better. Last season he was Nashville’s highest scoring defenseman and joined Weber among the top five in Norris Trophy voting. If the upward trend continues, this deal is going to look like a bargain in the last couple seasons.
(26 years old)
Five years, $21.25 million
Why: The last pick in the 2007 NHL draft averaged 26 goals during his first three full NHL seasons. Twice in a span of three seasons (2009-10 and 2011-12) he led the team in goals, which made him (at the time) the only player drafted by Nashville to do so more than once.
ROI: In announcing the deal Poile said Hornqvist "has become – and will remain – an integral member of our core group." Well, he remained with the team for one season in which he scored 22 goals and his attitude soured. He went to Pittsburgh in the trade that brought James Neal, a more versatile and mobile threat.
(23 years old)
Five years, $12.5 million
Why: A first-round pick (11th overall) in 2009, Ellis had no shortage of believers within the organization after his first full NHL season. Most notably, concerns about durability due to his size were eased when he played 80 games in 2013-14.
ROI: The deal makes sense because the salary sets reasonable expectations for a player who accomplishments in junior hockey, in many cases, were beyond comprehension. An injury limited him to just 58 games but he scored 27 points, the same number as the previous year and a clear indication that his game includes some significant offensive upside.
(Photo: Getty Images)
David Poile has been around long enough to know that he does not really know right now whether or not he has put together a good roster.
“I think you always believe in your team,” the Nashville Predators general manager told the Nashville Post on Monday. “Maybe you tend to overrate it a little bit in your mind. But then, certainly, something happens in training camp or the first part of the season that solidifies what you knew or maybe slaps you in the face a little bit.”
For Poile and the Predators, therefore, all that is left now is to wait.
The team’s offseason business concluded Wednesday when left wing Colin Wilson signed a four-year, $15.75 million contract a day before his scheduled arbitration hearing. Wilson was the last significant piece of the roster that was unsigned and one of numerous holdovers from last year’s team that won 47 games, finished second in the Central Division and ended the franchise’s two-year playoff drought.
Poile’s aim this offseason was to keep much of that roster intact.
Centers Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro each agreed to two-year deals to remain with Nashville rather than become free agents. Wilson and Craig Smith, two players in their mid-20s who each scored at least 20 goals last season, then signed long-term deals that will keep them in the team’s plans for the foreseeable future.
Come opening day, as many as 18 players who were a big part of last season’s team will be back in a Predators uniform.
“The previous couple seasons, you could say, had a little different feel to them,” Poile said. “We lost some playoffs and missed the playoffs two years in a row and it did feel like we were rebuilding the roster. Then replacing [coach] Barry [Trotz] was challenging to me personally. Then we started last season 15-5-2 and we got our swagger.
“I’m really bullish on our drafting the last couple years. We had the sixth best record in the NHL last season. I feel really good about where we are right now.”
The Nashville Predators and Craig Smith met in the middle — or close to it. From there, they agreed to travel a long road together.
Rather than rely on a third party to set contract terms for the 25-year-old forward that would cover the next season or two, the parties agreed on a five-year, $21.25 million contract Monday.
The deal was struck following the arbitration hearing but before the ruling was delivered. The average salary ($4.25 million) was closer to what Smith requested ($4.75 million) than what the franchise sought ($3 million) in the hearing. But it gave the Predators security in that Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2009, won’t be a free agent until he is 30.
It also made Smith one of three Nashville players has signed for more than the next two seasons.
A look at the Nashville Predators currently signed for the next three seasons or longer:
SHEA WEBER, D
Remaining years: 11
Average salary: $7.857 million
CRAIG SMITH, RW
Remaining years: five
Average salary: $4.25 million
ROMAN JOSI, D
Remaining years: five
Average salary: $4 million
PEKKA RINNE, G
Remaining years: four
Average salary: $7 million
RYAN ELLIS, D
Remaining years: four
Average salary: $2.5 million
JAMES NEAL, LW
Remaining years: three
Average salary: $5 million
“Craig Smith is an integral part of our team’s young core and we are pleased to have agreed on a long-term contract that both parties are comfortable with,” general manager David Poile said in a statement from the team. “With Craig’s durability, work ethic and intensity, we see him continuing the build on his recent production and be a valuable contributor to our offensive attack for the next five seasons.”
Smith has missed just three games the last two seasons and has played 277 out of a possible 294 in four seasons since he left the University of Wisconsin in 2011.
With 24 goals in 2013-14 and 23 more last season, he is one of only three players drafted by Nashville to score 20 or more goals for the franchise in consecutive seasons.
Now that Smith’s deal is done, the only significant piece of offseason business that has yet to be completed is one for left wing Colin Wilson, who also has filed for arbitration. Wilson’s hearing is scheduled for July 28.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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.
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.
• 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)
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)
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS