The Nashville Predators decided to stick with largely the same roster they had a year ago.
That group was good enough to have one of the league’s best records throughout the first three-quarters of the 2014-15 season but ultimately did no better than second place in the division and a first-round playoff exit.
Collectively, therefore, this team will have to find a way to be better than it was.
Here is what the Predators need from each individual for that to be the case:
• Mike Ribeiro: Lead the team in assists. Whether he plays with James Neal, Filip Forsberg or both he needs to be the facilitator he’s always been and allow those guys to score.
• Mike Fisher: Fight the effects of time. He’s 35 years old and missed 23 games last year. This team cannot afford for him to finally act his age.
• Cody Hodgson: Forget last season. He averaged 18 goals and 39.7 points over a three-year span before he slipped to six and 13, respectively, in 2014-15.
• Paul Gaustad: Win faceoffs. Whatever points he scores, the toughness he provides are secondary to the need for him to get possession of the puck for a team that relies on that very thing.
• Filip Forsberg: Avoid the sophomore slump. He has to be even better than he was last season when he had 26 goals and 63 points if this team is going to take a step forward.
• James Neal: Stay healthy. He has shown he can score from almost anywhere on the ice. He can’t do it from the sideline, which is where he was for 15 games last season.
• Colin Wilson: Keep it steady. His career thus far is a study in streaks. He finished last season on a playoff hot streak but he has to avoid the lengthy scoring droughts that have happened all too frequently.
• Craig Smith: Go forward. There’s no questions about his speed or his ability to finish. He has to make sure his intensity does not waver as it sometimes has in the past.
• Viktor Arvidsson: Keep it simple. He can skate and he can shoot. As long as he does those two things he can figure out the rest in his first NHL season.
• Calle Jarnkrok: Stay flexible. He’ll start the season as a wing but if a center gets hurt or slumps he will be the first to fill in. So he will have to change positions smoothly.
• Gabriel Bourque: Production. He is going to give effort but he dipped from .39 points per game in his first 108 NHL appearances to .19 per game last season. No one expects him to lead the team in scoring but he has to chip in.
• Eric Nystrom: Defense. He can do a lot of things but his primary role will be as a checker on the fourth line – and he must do it well.
• Austin Watson: Seize the opportunity. The 2010 first-round pick has waited a long time for his opportunity. He might not get another one with Nashville.
• Shea Weber: Leadership. There’s no doubt what he’ll deliver on the ice but the captain since 2010 needs to hold the rest of the team more accountable on the bench and in the locker room.
• Roman Josi: Prove last season was no fluke. His style of play has taken away from Weber’s offense, which is OK as long as he remains one of the NHL’s highest scoring blue liners.
• Seth Jones: Continue to grow. The fourth overall pick in 2013 has had his rough spots. There were fewer last season than his first. He needs to reduce that number even more.
• Ryan Ellis: Score more. He’ll never recreate the absurd point totals he produced in junior hockey but this team counts on its defense to score more than most – and there’s more Ellis can put up more than 27 points as he has each of the last two years.
• Mattias Ekholm: Make a name for himself. He’s been somewhat overlooked among this group but he has the size, skill and surprising toughness to be a star in his own right.
• Barret Jackman: Quality minutes. He shouldn’t have to play more than 10-12 minutes per game. In that time he has to provide high quality defense and penalty killing.
• Victor Bartley: Stay ready. There’s a reason he’s the seventh defenseman on this team, but he’s also given teammates and coaches reason to trust him when he is needed.
• Anthony Bitetto: Toughness. There’s plenty of skill in Nashville’s defense group but there are times when real grit is needed. Bitetto can be that guy.
• Pekka Rinne: Consistency. Typically, he’s a slow starter who plays his best late. Last season it was the reverse. He needs to play well throughout and deliver occasional great performances.
• Carter Hutton: Start fast. He typically plays better once he gets some regular action. If things go according to plan, he’ll only see spot duty.
(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 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.”
Mike Ribeiro is an easy guy to dislike – and one a lot of NHL fans actually do.
Or so says Yahoo.com’s Greg Wyshynski, who offered his take on the “10 most loathsome players in the league” Friday.
Ribeiro came in seventh on Wyshynski’s list, which also includes Arizona goalie Mike Smith, St. Louis’ Steve Ott and San Jose’s Raffi Torres. The reason the Predators’ assist leader last season made the cut was his willingness to try to draw penalty calls against opposing players.
Here is Wyshynski’s reasoning for including Ribeiro, who recently re-signed with Nashville for two years and $7 million:
Even if we leave out the civil suit for sexual assault he just settled, Ribeiro remains a player whose behavior saw him run out of Glendale and whose has a career of FIFA-quality diving. Some Predators fans are willing to stomach it all in the name of second-chances and points at center. Others … not so much.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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)
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)
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:
• 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.
• 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)
David Poile is willing to forgive. He has been ever since he signed Mike Ribeiro last summer despite well-publicized concerns about the veteran center’s character.
The Nashville Predators general manager also is willing to forget, though.
Poile said Tuesday afternoon that Ribeiro, the Predators’ leader in assists last season, had a firm deadline to accept the team’s latest contract offer or the team would move on to other options when the free agent signing period opens Wednesday.
“We’ve had some negotiations in the last couple of days,” Poile said. “We have not been able to come to an agreement there. … We want him back but we’ll have to see how the negotiations go in that area.
“We’re confident that if we’re able to sign him he can be a key part of our team moving forward.”
He feels that way even with renewed concerns about the 35-year-old’s past that have been raised in recent months.
A former nanny filed a civil suit against Ribeiro and his wife in February claiming she was assaulted more than three years ago while she worked for the family in Dallas and Washington D.C. Graphic allegations of sexual misconduct by Ribeiro against the girl, a teenager at the time, were levied in a more definitive statement submitted two weeks ago.
Poile said Ribeiro made the team aware of the accusations last summer, before he signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract and well before the suit initially was filed. That deal was set to end Tuesday and Ribeiro was scheduled to become a free agent.
“We just wish this would go away and hopefully it will,” Poile said. “I’m not a lawyer and I’m not qualified to say any more than I’ve said. All I can say is that talking to the Ribeiros, talking to the NHL, talking to law enforcement people we are comfortable with where this situation is.
“… The point to reinforce is that we were aware of this when we signed him a year ago, that there was an alleged incident and that there was going to be a civil case. We talked about it and with what we were told, we were comfortable about it.”
When Ribeiro did sign with Nashville he vowed that he was a changed man after the Arizona Coyotes had bought out his contract and labeled him a character risk.
Nothing that took place on or off the ice during the last season contradicted his assertion in any way. Not only was he different, he was a difference-maker for the Predators, who returned to the playoffs following a two-year absence.
He spent most of the season as the center on the team’s top line, played all 82 games and finished with 62 points (15 goals, 47 assists). He also was a popular and influential teammate.
Poile said his contract offer, which Ribeiro had not agreed to, was based strictly “on my budget, what I have available” and was not affected by the lawsuit or any potential public backlash over an athlete who faces allegations of sexual misconduct.
“We’ve seen him as a good person this year, both on the ice and off the ice, and we think that he and his family are doing really well and are comfortable here,” Poile said. “That’s why we hope to sign him.
“ … We don’t have our heads buried in the sand here. It’s not like we’re not discussing this with Mike. It’s not like we weren’t aware of it. We can only go by what we know and what is said. You hope that the past is in the past and that this will not be any problem in the future.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
A former nanny for Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro and his wife, Tamara Williams, alleges in a lawsuit that the NHL veteran repeatedly made unwanted advances and “sexually assaulted” her over roughly five years, including a period of time when Ribeiro and Williams were divorced.
The plaintiff began to work for Ribeiro and Williams when she was 12 years old and many of the incidents detailed in her suit, filed Thursday in Texas, occurred when she was younger than 18.
OnTheForecheck.com obtained copies of the suit and published the court papers Friday.
Some of the lurid actions alleged in the filing include:
• “Mike acted strangely toward [her] throughout all of the years she babysat the children. For example, she saw him staring at her with his hands down his pants many times when she was in the living room playing games with the kids while Mike was in the same room watching television.”
• “Mike also found ways to touch [her] backside by purposely walking behind her while she was doing dishes in the kitchen.”
• The plaintiff also described several particular incidents, including one in 2012, shortly after Ribeiro was traded to Washington, when she said Ribeiro crawled in bed with her while she was asleep.
• Williams, the suit alleges, did nothing to stop the inappropriate actions when she was made aware of them.
The suit originally was filed in February. Ribeiro and Williams denied the allegations in legal response in March, which included a request for a more definitive statement from the plaintiff. That prompted Thursday’s amended complaint.
The timing is terrible for Ribeiro, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month.
He was considered a character risk when Nashville signed him to a one-year, $1.05 million contract last July, but he became one of the team’s better players (a team-high 47 assists) and an important presence in the locker room.
It is unlikely Nashville or any other team will want to sign him again until there is some resolution to this case.
(Photo: Getty Images)
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS