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)
Ray Shero, a former assistant general manager with the Nashville Predators, is the new general manager for the New Jersey Devils.
The 52-year-old replaces Lou Lamoriello, a Devils’ institution who has had the job since 1987 and twice (2005-06 and 2014-15) has served as interim coach after he fired a coach in midseason.
Lamoriello, 72, will remain with the franchise as team president.
“It was a big attraction for me to have Lou stay on,” Shero said, according to Yahoo.com. “It’s a great situation for me. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Shero was Nashville’s assistant general manager from its inaugural season (1998-99) through 2006. He left to become general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a position he held until the end of the 2013-14 campaign. His Penguins teams won three division titles, two conference crowns and the 2009 Stanley Cup.
Before Nashville, he spent five seasons as assistant general manager with Ottawa preceded by a stint as a player agent.
“Ray is well-respected throughout the hockey industry and knows what it takes to win,” Lamoriello said in a release from the Devils. “His 22 seasons of NHL front-office experience will be beneficial to the New Jersey Devils organization. I look forward to working alongside Ray.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
For Tomas Vokoun, respect has limits. Or it should.
So he was troubled in April 2004 when he thought that appreciation for, and deference to the Detroit Red Wings had exceeded all reasonable boundaries throughout the hockey world, including the Nashville Predators dressing room. At the time, of course, the Predators were about to play in the NHL playoffs for the first time – against the Red Wings.
“I think we gave them a little too much respect at the time,” Vokoun said. “You know how it is. It is hockey and coming from referees and media and the whole thing was perceived as we didn’t have any chance. … I believed we did.
“At the end of the day we didn’t win but I think we gave them a pretty good run for their money. “
The Predators lost that series in six games but throughout Vokoun played and spoke with an intensity that bordered on … well, disrespectful. He held Detroit to two goals or fewer in four of the six games with one shutout, had a .939 save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against average.
Chances are things won’t be nearly as heated Saturday when Vokoun leads a team of former Predators players and select others against a squad with Detroit connections in an alumni game (5 p.m., Bridgestone Arena). That one follows the 85 all-time regular season meeting between the Predators and Red Wings (2 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
It will be the first contest of its kind for the 38-year-old Vokoun, who retired in December after having missed virtually all of last season due to a reoccurrence of blood clots that first was diagnosed during his time in Nashville. He played 15 seasons and 700 games for five different franchises. More than half of those games (383, to be exact) were with the Predators.
It also will be the first time since last May he has put on his goalie equipment for any reason.
“I was actually contemplating going on the ice the last two weeks … and it ended up never happening,” he said. “I don’t think I can go for the full splits any more, right? I don’t want to be back in the hospital. I had my share of time there last year and I’d definitely like to stay away from there for a little while at least.”
The franchise recognized Vokoun during Thursday’s game against Minnesota for his contributions, which included 161 wins, 21 shutouts.
Then there’s this: Prior to that 2004 playoff series the Predators had just nine regular-season victories over the Red Wings in six years. Over the next six, Nashville’s record against Detroit was 19-17-6.
“I have all the respect in the world for that team,” Vokoun said. “… There’s nothing not to respect, but you still have to play the games against them and you still have to be confident in your ability to win or it doesn’t make sense to be on the ice.”
OK, so maybe things might get a little competitive on Saturday.
More from Vokoun:
• On which NHL team he most identifies with: “Obviously, most as a Predator. I (was) here nine years so that was more than half of my career. I was a long time in Florida too but my best memories came from here, by far. … Just being able to get into the NHL and then to grow from a backup into a starter. There’s lots of things I learned here and I went through here – disappointments and obviously success stories – so I think (being) a Predator is definitely the strongest of what I will remember the most.”
• On retirement: “I do not miss playing. I think I miss a lot of parts of being a hockey player and being with the guys every day, that camaraderie and traveling and all that, but I do not miss dressing up every day and getting hit with a puck 700 times. … Everybody I talked so said the first year you retire you want to take it easy, enjoy your family and take some time to figure out what you want to do.”
• On his last NHL action, when he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins reach the 2013 Eastern Conference finals: “I didn’t have a lot of chances to play in the playoffs. … I did get to experience it and play in conference finals. It was fun. So I know how it feels and what it’s like. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been there once or five times. Once you know the experience you know it. So it was great.”
• On the current Nashville team: “You have a team like this you want to win the Cup. Right? You don’t know what’s going to happen next year. Believe me, one thing I learned over the years is that no matter how successful or unsuccessful the season is it’s never the same next year. There’s different players. The team never stays the same. So you don’t know what’s going to be next year. They have a really, really good chance this year, I think.”
Carter Hutton clearly understands showmanship.
The Nashville Predators backup goalie likes to leave on a high note.
He hit another one Sunday when he made 21 saves in a 4-0 victory at Pittsburgh, which could be his final appearance for a time.
Pekka Rinne traveled with the team during the three-game road trip that ended Sunday and worked out on the ice prior to Sunday’s game. General manager David Poile has said Rinne’s status would be reviewed prior to Tuesday’s game against Toronto (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena).
“We played really well,” Hutton said, according to NHL.com. “… I think we just did a great job of keeping guys to the outside. Most of the shots came from the outside.”
Hutton played just five times and did not have a victory before Rinne was injured Jan. 13 against Vancouver. He now has won two of his late three and helped Nashville earn at least a point in four straight appearances.
Last season, he played more than any other Predators goalie because Rinne missed significant time with an infection in his hip. Following some uneven play along the way, he won in each of his final five appearances (four starts) last season and finished 20-11-4.
That closing stretch included his only other career shutout, April 5 against San Jose, his next-to-last appearance of the season.
"Pittsburgh's a good team,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “We felt like lately we've been playing hard games, but we felt we could play better in front of our goalie.”
Hutton is going back to the bench sooner rather than later. At least he’s played well enough of late to make sure that coaches and teammates won’t forget about him once he does.
For Marcel Goc, games against one of his former teams are becoming increasingly rare.
The 31-year-old center has played for four different franchises in a 10-year career.
Thursday night he makes his debut for his fifth club – and he’ll do so against one of the other four. Goc, traded from Pittsburgh earlier this week, will be in the St. Louis Blues’ lineup when they host Nashville (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
“It came a little surprising, but the more I start to think about it, this was really good,” Goc said of the trade, according to NHL.com. "It got more and more exciting and I'm happy to be here and looking forward to (Thursday) night.
“It was always really tough to play against [the Blues]. They're a really tight-checking team. If you get chances, you usually have to earn them or do a couple good plays in a row. That's what made them tough to beat."
Goc had six points (two goals, four assists) in 43 games for the Penguins prior to the trade.
He had career-highs of 12 goals, 18 assists and 30 points in 2009-10, the first of his two seasons with Nashville. He also has played with San Jose and Florida.
This is the final meeting of the season between the Predators and Blues, who are first and second, respectively, in the Central Division.
Nashville won three of the first four, all by one goal.
“They've been better than us," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said, according to NHL.com. "They've won three of them and they've been better. They've played better, they've got leads where we'd chase games. We've pushed hard, they've pushed right back.
“I told the players we're the ones that have to make the adjustments if things continue down the same path and the games are played the same way. We're going to have a difficult challenge ahead of us.”
A lineup change is one way to go.
James Neal does not want to hear that he was in the right place at the right time.
Sure, as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins he was part of one of the NHL’s best offensive teams and played centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, each a league scoring champion and Hart Trophy winner within the last three seasons. In three full seasons with that franchise, Neal was basically a point-per-game performer (178 points, 179 games).
From his perspective, though, he was right where he should be.
“It takes a certain player to play with those guys,” Neal told the Nashville Post on Saturday. “It’s not the easiest job to play with those guys. They expect a lot out of you and you need to produce for them or you’re not going to be there. So I think it goes both ways.
“Obviously, it was fun to be able to play with (Crosby) and (Malkin) — (Malkin), for the most part. It was a whole lot of fun.”
In other words, he is confident he can be just as productive as a member of the Nashville Predators, who opened training camp Friday.
Nashville gave up a lot when it traded for the 27-year-old left wing in June. The deal included left wing Patric Hornqvist, the only Predators draft pick ever to score 30 goals for the team and one of only two players in franchise history (Jason Arnott was the other) to score 27 or more goals in more than one season.
Neal had 27 goals last season, just as he did for Dallas in 2009-10, his second full NHL season. His career-high was 40 with Pittsburgh in 2011-12, the year Malkin led the league in scoring. The challenge now is not for him to fit into the Predators’ attack but to elevate it.
“I don’t want to put all the pressure on James,” first-year coach Peter Laviolette said. “We brought him here for a reason. It was for his offensive talents. He’s a big, young strong winger that can create offense and that’s why we brought him here. But I truly think it will be a team concept that drives this team in the end.”
That his current team lacks the star power of his former one matters little to Neal.
“I came into the league and played with Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro and then played with Brad Richards,” he said. “They’re all good centermen but each guy is different so you have to adjust your game to them.
“Lots of guys have played with great players and have not been able to produce.”
Nick Spaling probably did not need to get in a fight the franchise that traded for him roughly a month ago.
It made sense, therefore, that the former Nashville Predators forward avoided arbitration Thursday when he agreed to a two-year, $4.4 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The $2.2 million annual salary is twice what he made with Nashville in 2012-13. He earned $1.5 million last season on a one-year deal.
Oddly, on a team with as much star power as any, he is now the sixth highest paid forward and one of only six signed beyond the coming season.
“To me, it seems like a fair deal,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “We really like Nick. We know he's going to play a good role.
“… He's coming out of a role and a system where it was more of a defensive system. Now, he's going to go into a new system that could give him an opportunity to put more points up.”
Spaling, 25, set career-highs with 13 goals, 19 assists and 32 points last season. Nashville drafted him in second round (58th overall) in 2007 and traded him, along with Patric Hornqvist, to Pittsburgh on June 27 for left wing James Neal.
As far as Plan Bs go the Nashville Predators could have done a lot worse than James Neal.
Their new first-line left wing is a rugged 6-foot-2, 208-pound sniper whose shot is regarded as one of the game’s best. He also is signed through 2017-18 at $5 million per season, an unquestionably reasonable rate for a player who has and – given that he’ll be 27 at the start of the season – might again average a point per game for an entire season.
Of course to get him general manager David Poile traded forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to Pittsburgh. Two days removed from the deal he felt better than he did in the moments that led to it.
“I told [Pittsburgh general manager] Jim Rutherford, ‘I’m getting nervous about this trade,” Poile said Sunday. “I think when you get there you’re at the point where you know it’s good for both teams. It was certainly, in our minds, a trade for a top forward. He’s a natural goal scorer. … He is strong on the power play. He’s got a great release. He’s got a great one-timer. Basically, he provides a dimension we have lacked here with the Predators.”
No team generated more headlines during the National Hockey League’s draft weekend than the Predators, who made news because of who they got in a trade (Neal) and who they did not get (Ottawa center Jason Spezza).
Poile declined to address specific questions, but what he did say on the subject gave the overwhelming impression that Neal and Spezza were an either/or proposition and not a swing for the fences that ended up a ground-rule double.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray wanted to deal Spezza, the second overall pick in 2001, but was unable to do so. He told reporters at the draft in Philadelphia that he had an acceptable offer from Nashville but Spezza, who has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, refused to sign off on the move.
“I don’t want to say what we did or didn’t do,” Poile said. “Bryan Murray said what he said. All I’m going to say publicly is we called and we were told by Ottawa and his agent that he did not want to go to Nashville.”
He refused to offer any details about whether Hornqvist and/or Spaling were included in that offer, although it seems virtually certain that they were. He conceded only that those discussions took place “way before” draft weekend, when the Predators finally settled on and, in a manner of speaking, settled for Neal.
As recently as 2011-12, Neal averaged a point per game when he had 40 goals and 41 assists in 80 games for the Predators. In 413 games with Dallas and Pittsburgh he has 315 points (161 goals, 154 assists) in 413 contests.
“My vision is that at some point we will get a top center,” Poile said. “We’re trying to get top six forwards. I believe that Neal is a top three forward. I’m open-minded to when you have the opportunity to get one of these guys to be able to do it. I was very happy I was able to do it because it didn’t disrupt our defense and it didn’t take away our first pick.
“… I think James Neal dramatically changes the look of our forward roster.”
Even if he is a different guy than the one they initially envisioned doing so.
It all came to a head for Shea Weber with 2:55 remaining in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Missed opportunities, including his shot that slammed off the post roughly 20 seconds earlier. The perceived star treatment afforded to high profile players on other clubs that rarely is shown to him and his teammates. Failure to seize a moment such as the return to the Nashville nets of goalie Pekka Rinne, who was spectacular right from the get-go yet still couldn’t spark his team to victory.
It was at that moment, when Pittsburgh put the game away, that the typically stoic team captain needed a release. As Penguins players celebrated a goal Rinne was helpless to stop not to mention put the game out of reach, Weber fired the puck the length of the ice in anger and expressed his displeasure toward the referees in a manner that earned him a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and 10-minute misconduct. The outburst sent him to the locker room and left the others to finish without him.
What largely will be perceived as an ungracious ending for one of Nashville’s two most important players actually was a high point.
For the first time since he signed an offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers 20 months ago Weber displayed a real emotional investment in the Nashville Predators and their success, or lack thereof. They have, after all, just one win and four points in their last six games and their playoff hopes are fading as a result.
He simply couldn’t shrug off this defeat in the 62nd game of the season and take solace in the fact that the Predators matched one of the league’s best offensive teams shot-for-shot (19 apiece). He could not overlook the fact that after he hit the post, he felt Penguins star Sidney Crosby not only got away with a trip of Roman Josi but also exploited the act into his third assist of the contest – all after Nashville’s leading scorer, David Legwand, had been called for two penalties earlier in the period. He could not focus – not at first, at least – on the positives of Rinne’s return that included a spectacular stop on a Pittsburgh two-on-one (Crosby and Chris Kunitz) roughly 2:30 after the opening faceoff.
Until now there has been plenty of reason to wonder about Weber’s commitment to franchise that drafted him and helped him become a two-time Norris Trophy finalist.
Clearly, the bonus-heavy offer he accepted from Philadelphia was structured in a way that he, his agent and the Flyers figured the Predators could not match. He wanted to be a part of a franchise that covets star players, pays them accordingly and as recently as four years ago played in the Stanley Cup finals. He wanted out of Nashville.
The Predators, of course, did match it and in so doing secured his services for 14 years. Sure, he got the last – and biggest – contract of its kind before NHL owners locked out players a few weeks later and eventually negotiated deals of that size out of the game but he did not get all he wanted.
Often since then he seemed like a player resigned to his fate rather than one who relished his good fortune in terms of earnings and security. Then the Penguins scored their third goal and Weber got angry. Really angry.
Most will remember Tuesday’s game for Rinne’s return. More important, though, is that it looked as if Weber finally forgot whatever bad feelings he had about the business of the NHL and truly, deeply, profoundly felt bad about the defeat. And that's good.
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS