Santorelli finally concludes long, slow search for new team

Mike Santorelli has rare speed.

Nonetheless, another NHL team was slow to sign the 29-year-old forward following his second stint with the Nashville Predators.

It finally happened. Santorelli signed a one-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, more than six weeks since the start of the free agency signing period.

The Ducks will become his sixth NHL team in an NHL career that currently consists of seven seasons. He broke in with the Predators in 2008-09 and then spent time with Florida, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto before Nashville reacquired him in a trade late last season.

Santorelli had just four points (one goal, three assists) in 22 appearances for the Predators last season. It was not the sort of impact franchise officials expected after he had 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) for Vancouver in 2013-14 and 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) for Toronto last season prior to the trade.

General manager David Poile was quick to admit after the season that the deal with the Maple Leafs, which also brought defenseman Cody Franson, was a mistake and that the team and neither player would be re-signed.

It took a while for Santorelli to find a new team. Franson continues to look for one.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 17, 2015 9:55 PM

More than a month into NHL free agency, Cullen finds new team

At long last, another of the Nashville Predators’ cast-offs has caught on with another team.

Forward Matt Cullen agreed to a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, which made him the first Predators free agent to sign with another NHL team since the start of the new league year, July 1.

The 38-year-old who spent the last two seasons in Nashville was one of six players the Predators chose not to re-sign or whose contracts were bought out after last season. Viktor Stalberg signed a one-year deal with the New York Rangers on July 1 and Rich Clune accepted a minor-league deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate.

Defensemen Cody Franson and Anton Volchenkov and forward Mike Santorelli remain unsigned.

Pittsburgh is the eighth different team for which Cullen has been a member in an 18-year NHL career.  However, the move reunites him with general manager Jim Rutherford, who was the GM in Carolina during Cullen’s two stints with the Hurricanes (2005-06 and 2007-10).

His new deal represents a significant decrease in pay from what he earned in Nashville. He signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Predators in 2013-14 and had 64 points (17 goals, 47 assists) in 139 appearances.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 6, 2015 6:30 PM

Poile stands by Ribeiro but sets deadline for center to re-sign

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)

Jun 30, 2015 6:01 PM

Lawsuit details alleged sexual assault by Ribeiro against nanny

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. 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)

Jun 19, 2015 10:10 PM

Free-agent-to-be Franson willing to return to former team — again

Apparently, Cody Franson is not the adventurous sort or in search of new horizons.

Back in February, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Franson to the Nashville Predators, the only other NHL franchise of which he had been a part.

That deal did not work out as planned, and the Predators do not intend to try to re-sign the 27-year-old defenseman, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in July.

So where would he like to end up? Back in Toronto.

“I enjoyed playing in that city and definitely I’m hopeful that Toronto’s in the mix come July 1,” Franson told TSN Radio 1050 over the weekend. “My phone will definitely be on and hoping that they’re one of the teams that calls.”

Nashville drafted Franson in the third round in 2005 and he made his NHL debut with the Predators four years later. The Predators traded him Toronto prior to the 2011-12 NHL season and in three-plus seasons he worked his way on to the Maple Leafs top defense pairing.

He has played 400 career NHL games – 236 for Toronto, 164 for Nashville.

“This is new territory for me,” he said. “I’m excited to kind of really just get it over with and find out where I’m going and start gearing towards the next season. I’ve been off for a few weeks now, taken my time off and getting back in the gym here.

“When you start getting back in the gym, it’s that time to start looking forward to the next season. With being in free agency, you don’t know where that’s going to be. July 1 can’t come quick in enough.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

May 27, 2015 6:42 AM

Predators' value to Fisher, Ribeiro goes beyond salary figures

Mike Fisher enjoyed the opportunity to be on the same team as Mike Ribeiro this season. After all, for years they faced (and literally faced off against) one another when Fisher played for Ottawa and Ribeiro was with Montreal.

“He was a great teammate,” Fisher said. “We were drafted together and I played against him for a long time. It was fun to watch him play and be on the same team.”

Now the veteran centers are in the same boat.

Each is scheduled for unrestricted free agency when the current NHL business year expires and each has a unique set of circumstances that likely will make him willing to accept less than market value to return to Nashville for 2015-16 rather than play somewhere else.

For Fisher, of course, Nashville is now home. It is the epicenter of the music industry in which his wife, Carrie Underwood, is a star. Plus, the couple recently welcomed its first child, and the idea of being gone a significant amount of time from October through April cannot be appealing.

“My focus is being here with this group and being a part of this,” Fisher said. “At this point in my career, obviously, your family is No. 1 and you want to win too. I have both here and feeling like we have a great team that’s only going to get better and it’s something I’d love to be a part of.”

For Ribeiro (pictured), Nashville was a chance for him to start over with his wife and children after one season of personal and professional turmoil in Phoenix. The Coyotes bought out his contract following the 2013-14 campaign but still owe him $1.444 million each of the next two seasons and $1.944 million each of the two seasons after that, which provides flexibility in negotiations with Nashville.

“It’s more about who we have to sign too,” Ribeiro said. “There’s key players that we need back. Most of it is veteran players in the middle of their career now that can be really good for this team. And I think we love each other in there. So it’s going to be more of a team concept, thinking about everything and figuring out what’s right.”

A look at players whose contracts with the Nashville Predators are up at the end of this season:

Unrestricted free agents
Matt Cullen, LW/C, 38 years old (2014-15 salary: $4 million)
Mike Fisher, C, 34 years old (2014-15 salary: $4.2 million)
Mike Ribeiro, C, 35 years old (2014-15 salary: $1.05 million)
Mike Santorelli, RW/C, 29 years old (2014-15 salary: $1.5 million)
Anton Volchenkov, D, 33 years old (2014-15 salary: $1 million)
Cody Franson, D, 27 years old (2014-15 salary: $3.3 million)

Restricted free agents
Taylor Beck, RW, 23 years old (2014-15 salary: $550,000)
Gabriel Bourque, LW, 24 years old (2014-15 salary: $825,000)
Calle Jarnkrok, C, 23 years old (2014-15 salary: $790,000)
Craig Smith, RW, 25 years old (2014-15 salary: $2 million)
Colin Wilson, LW, 25 years old (2014-15 salary: $2.5 million)

Nashville had one of the lowest total payrolls in the league this season at $61.9 million. Fisher was the second highest paid forward with a salary and a cap hit of $4.2 million. Ribeiro was a bargain at $1.05 million (he got another $1.444 million from Arizona).

Currently, the team has just over $15 million committed to forwards for next season. Conversely, six of the top eight defensemen are signed at least through 2015-16.

So there is money to spend on the group of forwards, although it might not take a lot to bring back a couple of them.

“I think (negotiations) will be just about [what is] the right thing to do,” Ribeiro said. “I look forward to it.“

(Photo: Getty Images)

May 1, 2015 11:35 AM

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

Jokinen adds little playoff experience to Predators' lineup

It has to be asked.

Is Olli Jokinen the most unlucky hockey player on the planet? Or is he a well-traveled harbinger of doom and gloom who brings bad results with him everywhere he goes?

The Nashville Predators, of course, signed the 35-year-old forward to a one-year, $2.5 million contract Wednesday, which makes him – thus far, at least – their only free agent addition their offseason.

Part of Jokinen’s appeal is his experience. He has played 1,169 NHL games for seven different franchises in a career that dates back to 1997, when he had an eight-game audition with Los Angeles as a 19-year-old.

However, that experience includes just one trip to the playoffs. That’s right – one.

In that case, Calgary in 2009, he played the first two-thirds of the season with Phoenix and was traded before his impact could be fully felt. Perhaps predictably, that Calgary team made a quick exit when it lost in the opening round to Chicago in six games.

Therefore, it was odd, foolish or simple insanity Saturday when, in his first press conference since he signed the deal, he talked about postseason possibilities as one of the things that drew him to Nashville.

“This team is a really good team,” Jokinen said, according to “With Pekka in the net and a healthy Rinne, it gives you a chance to win every night. We have the best defensemen in the League in Shea Weber, best young defenseman in the League in Roman Josi … a lot of players that [have played] this game for a long time. For me this was the best option, to come to a team that not just wants to get to the playoffs but wants to go far.”

Every team wants to go to the playoffs. There is nothing unique in that regard. Nashville has missed out the last two seasons and has won just two series’ in the seven trips it has made to the playoffs.

Modest as that postseason history is, it probably seems like a big deal with Jokinen.

Consider that:

• He played just one full season (1998-99) with Los Angeles, the team that drafted him third overall in 1997. Each of the following three seasons the Kings made the playoffs.

• His lone season with the New York Islanders was 1999-00. Beginning in 2001-02, that franchise made three straight postseason appearances.

• He was with Florida from 2000-01 through 2007-08, a stretch during which the Panthers never finished better than 11th in the Eastern Conference. They finished ninth and missed out on the playoffs because of a tiebreaker their first season without him.

• His spent less than a full season with Phoenix in 2008-09, but the Coyotes went 36-39-7. They’ve been better than .500 in the five seasons since and made the playoffs three straight years beginning in 2009-10.

• Calgary traded him about a year after it acquired him (the Flames missed the playoffs in 2010) and took him back for two full seasons beginning in 2010-11. He came close in 2011-12 when the Flames finished ninth, five points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot,

• He spent the last two years with Winnipeg and was unable to end that franchise’s lengthening playoff drought.

For what it’s worth, he was good in his lone NHL playoff appearance – five points (two goals, three assists) in six games.

So maybe there’s reason to believe he will be helpful if the Predators can make it back next season. Given his history, though, it’s difficult to imagine he will help them get there.

“We both have the same background in the last couple years, and that's one negative we both have, and that's not making the playoffs,” general manager David Poile said. “That's something that I know he wants to do, and he is going to do everything he can to help us get there.

“Olli has been a guy that has produced throughout his career offensively. I think this is a significant addition to our hockey club.”

Jul 7, 2014 5:25 AM