Predators' decision to double up on free agent centers raises questions about Fisher's status

Apparently, Mike Fisher’s injury is worse than the Nashville Predators initially thought or at least have let on.

That’s the clear conclusion to be drawn following Tuesday’s dip into the free-agent bargain bin that resulted in one-year deals for veteran centers Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy. Ribeiro, 34, signed for $1.05 million. Roy, 31, signed for $1 million.
Those signings came two weeks after 35-year-old Olli Jokinen signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal, one day before Fisher’s surgery to repair a torn Achilles.

If franchise officials were confident that the 34-year-old Fisher would miss only a month or so of the season, they would not make this seemingly desperate grab at talent. Or if they viewed any of these players as anything other than a stop-gap for an organization short of forward prospects, they would have given those guys multi-year contracts.

Instead, they took a two-for-one, quick-fix approach in an attempt to stabilize things at center, where Fisher has been the No. 1 guy for the last several seasons. (See also: Preds take flyers, not Flyer, in effort to get better up the middle)

Roy is similar to Fisher in that he is a well-rounded player. He has had as many as 81 points in a season (2007-08 with Buffalo) but his offense has declined steadily in recent seasons to just 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists) in 75 games with St. Louis last season.

Ribeiro was supposed to be Phoenix’s No. 1 center when he signed a four-year, $22 million deal last year. The Coyotes instead bought out his contract three weeks ago due to concerns about “behavioral issues.”

Their additions mean that Jokinen can play on the wing — as General Manager David Poile has said was planned — and Nashville still will have a strong veteran presence down the middle with some combination of Ribeiro, Roy, 37-year-old Matt Cullen, 32-year-old Paul Gaustad and presumably 22-year-old Calle Jarnkrok. Colin Wilson also has been promised the opportunity to audition at center after years primarily spent on the wing.

The question now is when (or even if) Fisher will be added to that mix. The team reported that he would miss four to six months following surgery on July 3. The best-case scenario, therefore, was that he would be back a month or so into the regular season.

It seems the Predators expect the worst.

Jul 15, 2014 12:51 PM

Predators take a chance on Coyotes' castoff

It was fewer than three weeks ago that Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney cited “behavioral issues” as the reason he and his team bought out the remaining three years of Mike Ribeiro’s contract.

“To his credit, he has been getting help this offseason and obviously would hope he continues,” Maloney said at the time, according to the Arizona Republic. “But at the end of the year and all the background checking and what happened, we felt that for us to move forward, we couldn't have him a part of this team.”

Tuesday the Nashville Predators signed the 34-year-old forward to a one-year, $1.05 million contract – and did their best to make him sound like a pillar of professionalism.

“Mike is a talented veteran center who has produced offensively everywhere he has played,” general manager David Poile said in a statement. “We have done our due diligence and believe Mike has a lot to offer to our team, improves us at our center ice position and will fit in with our group and contribute.”

The Predators will be his fourth team in as many different seasons. He was with Dallas in 2011-12, with Washington in 2012-13 and with Phoenix a year ago.

A second-round pick by Montreal in 1998, he has scored 20 goals or more three times in the NHL and has topped 15 in each of the last nine 82-game seasons. He has 656 points (202 goals, 454 assists) in 865 career games.

The Coyotes considered him a foundation piece and their No. 1 center when they signed him last summer to a four-year, $22 million contract. They eventually benched him for two games during their push for the playoffs, which they missed out on by two points.

According to reports, coaches paired him with a number of different wingers and he failed to find chemistry with any of them. His 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) last season were his fewest in more than a decade.

“I think it was a lot of things," Ribeiro said following the season, according to the Arizona Republic. "It's not just about hockey but a lot of things. Never having my groove, never found it. It was just a hard season for me. I think it was one of my worst seasons. But … I don't believe it can get worse.”

The Predators better hope it doesn’t.

Jul 15, 2014 11:46 AM

Predators add rough edge to group of smooth-skating defensemen

When he was with the Nashville Predators, Ryan Suter once explained that a player only has to block a shot if he is out of position. If he is in the right spot, the opposing player should not have room to shoot.

So at first blush the fact that Anton Volchenkov, the Predators’ latest free agent addition, has blocked 1,395 shots since 2005-06 (second among all NHL players during that time) does not necessarily look like a good thing.

Positional hockey clearly is not the 32-year-old’s game, though. That much is evident in the fact that he also has 1,313 hits (10th among all defensemen) over that same span.

His rugged style of play should be a welcome – and much-needed – addition to a unit that is flush with smooth-skating, puck moving players such as Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.

“Anton provides a strong veteran presence that will complement our young, talented defensive corps nicely,” general manager David Poile said in a statement from the team. “He is a physical, left-handed shooting defenseman who can match up with top-line forwards and effectively kill penalties.”

Nashville signed Volchenkov to a one-year, $1 million deal Monday. He had two years and $9 million remaining on a deal with the New Jersey Devils before that team executed a compliance buyout of his contract on June 30.

He never has scored more than four goals in a season and had eight assists without a goal in 56 games for the Devils in 2013-14. However, he averaged 3:43 of shorthanded ice time per game, which was more than any Nashville defenseman.

He was first-round pick (21st overall) by Ottawa in 2000 and a two-time member of Russia’s Olympic team (2006 and 2010).

Nashville becomes his third NHL team.

Jul 7, 2014 5:01 PM

Updated: Preds address present -- not future -- with addition of veteran center

Update (3:35 p.m.): The Predators formally announced the signing of center Olli Jokinen a short time ago.

“Olli Jokinen is a proven veteran center who will provide us with size, leadership and offensive ability in the tough Central Division and Western Conference,” general manager David Poile said in a release. “He provides our coaching staff with more depth and options at the forward position and coach Laviolette believes he is a good fit for our style of play.”

Original story: Olli Jokinen has been in the National Hockey League a long time.

As such, he is not the long-term solution to the Nashville Predators’ need for a center. He does, however, fill an immediate need – not to mention provides generational consistency at that position.

The Predators signed the 37-year-old Jokinen, a veteran of NHL 1,169 games, to a one-year, $2.5 million contract Wednesday, according to TSN.ca. The team has not confirmed the deal.

He joins a center group that currently includes 37-year-old Matt Cullen, 34-year-old Mike Fisher and 32-year-old Paul Gaustad.

Nashville will be Jokinen’s eighth different team in a career that dates back to an eight-game preview as a 19-year-old with the Los Angeles Kings in 1997-98. The Kings selected him third overall in 1997.

He scored more than 30 goals four times in a stretch of five seasons with Florida and as recently as 2011-12, he had 61 points (23 goals, 38 assists) for Calgary.

Seven times he has played all 82 games in a season, including last year with Winnipeg, for which he had 18 goals and 25 assists.

Jul 2, 2014 3:01 PM

Predators wait while division rivals add offense on first day of free agency

Peter Laviolette has vowed to make the Nashville Predators a better offensive team.

The first-year coach better do it quickly.

Virtually every other Central Division team made at least one significant addition to their forward groups on Tuesday, the first day of the free agency signing period. The Predators, on the other hand, were one of two NHL teams (Boston was the other) that did not close a single deal.

True, Nashville traded with Pittsburgh late last week to acquire James Neal but gave up Patric Hornqvist, one of their most consistent point-producers in recent seasons, in order to do so.

For the Predators’ division opponents, however, bringing on board some of the top offensive players available cost nothing but money. Speaking of which, Nashville is nearly $18.5 million under the salary cap, which is second most among Western Conference teams, but after 63 free-agent deals for just shy of $500 million the Predators will be picking through the remaining available talent in search of bargains.

A look at what the rest of the Central Division did on Tuesday:

• Dallas: It was bad enough that center Jason Spezza rejected a trade to Nashville last month, now the Predators have to face him regularly. The Stars got Spezza from Ottawa for three young forwards and a draft pick. On top of that, Dallas’ free agent additions included right wing Ales Hemsky, also from Ottawa, who had some big games against the Predators when he played for Edmonton. Hemsky signed a three-year, $12 million deal.

St. Louis: Paul Stastny is a guy most Predators fans targeted as a perfect fit. So naturally he ends up with a division rival on a four-year, $28 million pact. At 28 years old, he has been a consistent 20-30-goal scorer and a reliable two-way player who should make the Blues, already difficult to play against, an even more daunting challenge for opponents.

Minnesota: It was not the overwhelming haul of two years ago when the Wild sapped up Ryan Suter and Zach Parise at once, but their one acquisition was a big one. Left wing Thomas Vanek is 30 years old and a three-time 40-goal scorer, who now is locked up for three years and $19.5 million. There are questions about his effort but not about his skill, which is something Minnesota needs about as much as Nashville.

Colorado: Jarome Iginla is not as young as he used to be (he’s 37), but he has scored 30 goals or more in 12 straight 82-game seasons. Now he is back in the Western Conference with a three-year, $16 million deal that ensures Nashville will have plenty of chances to figure out how to handle him.

Chicago: The Blackhawks did not have much room under the salary cap but squeezed in Brad Richards for one year at $2 million. Richards has been a consistent 20-goal scorer and has a wealth of playoff experience – a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and a finals appearance this year with the New York Rangers – that should serve him well with the Blackhawks as they pursue another title.

Winnipeg: The Jets did not name as big a splash as the others, but they did get 26-year-old center Mathieu Perreault fresh off the best offensive season of his career (18 goals, 25 assists with Anaheim. They got him for three years at $9 million.

Jul 2, 2014 5:13 AM

Predators have plenty of competition for top free agent targets

The prices for this year’s top NHL free agents are likely to be steep.

The league-wide trend in recent years has been for teams to lock up younger players with long-term deals a year or two before they are eligible for free agency. That has made this year’s group of available players one of the smallest in recent history and has made a small group of top guys the focus for a large number of teams.

“We and probably most teams have talked to the same players,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. “So I think they’re going to have a lot to choose from if they want to move and I think their demands are going to be pretty high.

“… I think we all know who the higher-end guys are and I can guarantee that we’ve talked to them. What I can’t guarantee is whether we have a fit for them. But we’re going to try.”

Teams have been allowed to negotiate with free agents since last week. The signing period, however, begins 11 a.m. (CDT) Tuesday.

Some of the top free agents available this year (with age in parentheses):

Forwards: Thomas Vanek, LW (30); Jarome Iginla, RW (37); Paul Stasny, C (28); Jussi Jokinen, LW (31); Matt Moulson, LW (30); Radim Vrbata, RW (33); Brad Richards, C (34); Daniel Alfredsson, RW (41); David Legwand, C (33).

Defensemen: Matt Niskanen (27); Dan Boyle (37); Christian Ehrhoff (31); Andre Benoit (30); Tom Gilbert (31); Andrej Meszaros (28).

Poile said that if he can’t get any of the players on his wish list, he is not going to look for someone else.

“I think you make your best efforts at trying to acquire the guys you think will help your team,” Poile said. “If it works out, it works out. But we’re only one of 30 teams and in some of these cases I’m sure they might have 15-20 suitors.

“I’m realistic. I hope [fans] are realistic as to where we are. The last thing I want to do is something for the sake of change just to say we did something.”

Jul 1, 2014 7:33 AM