Everybody knows that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars have already won the 2014 offseason. Of course, that doesn't mean that the other six teams of Conference III spent the summer sitting on their hands. No. The Central Division is about to get fun.
Over the next few weeks we'll look at the offseason moves and acquisitions of the other Conference III teams. Who's improved, who's trending in the other direction, and what to watch for in the 2014-2015 season. Last week we debuted with the Winnipeg Jets, today we follow up with the Central Division's penultimate loser, the Nashville Predators...
The Nashville Predators acquired four names of note this offseason. Three of them, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, and Derek Roy, are former Stars. It's like the Predators are trying to recreate the glory days of the Dallas Stars' five-year playoff drought.
The Perds would do something like that.
Intriguingly, two of those former Stars were brought in to fill the sudden void at top-line center the Predators now have, what with the (off)season ending surgery to Mike Fisher. He will actually be back in four to six months, but, seeing as how I can't even plan my life a week in advance, as far as I'm concerned he might as well have just retired. As far as the Preds are concerned as well, since following that news, they immediately signed not just one, but two free agent centers to one year contracts. Derek Roy, who I'm not entirely certain why he's only on a one-year deal, and Mike Ribeiro, who after having been bought out by the Coyotes largely due to ‘behavioral issues' is lucky to be given a contract of longer than a week.
On a side note, how many other jobs are there out there where somebody can under-perform to the point where even their mere presence is considered detrimental to the success of their employer, and, in place of getting fired, they're instead paid an exorbitant amount of money to not do their job? Serious question. Maybe the CEO of an investment banking firm?
Whatever. The buyout means that Mike Ribeiro has a chance to be reborn, again, as a productive member of society. And he chose Nashville for that chance. That's right. He chose Nashville. Coupling that with the signings of Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen, the Predators have done a lot to strengthen their depth at center. A theme amongst Central Division teams it would seem...
Ribeiro, provided he can catch the bus, will presumably slot in as the first-line center, with Roy and Jokinen anchoring the lines behind him. In an Eastern Conference division, that might be viewed as some very solid depth. In the Central though?
There's more to the story however, because the Predators traded for a guy you all might remember...
For a team whose biggest failing in recent years has been a lack of offense, the trade for a 40-goal scorer could go a long way to helping that. Of course, it remains to be seen how well James Neal performs when he's playing on the wing of Mike Ribeiro, rather than Evgeni Malkin. Or do we have to wait...
Actually,yeah. We do. I browsed Extra Skater and couldn't find any stats on Neal and Ribeiro skating together back in 2010. Too bad, as that would have fit my narrative way better. Maybe the two occasionally played on a line together, I don't remember, but Neal's time sure was monopolized by Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards. Too bad neither of them were available for Nashville...
Nor was Jason Spezza available, as he nixed a trade to the Predators. I guess Nashville just isn't as sexy a destination as, say, Dallas.
Honorable mention for ‘Biggest Splash' goes to a move made way back at the beginning of summer. The firing of the face of the franchise, Barry Trotz. This season, for the first time ever, the Nashville Predators will take the ice without Barry Trotz as the head coach. Instead some guy named Peter Laviolette is in. If you were wondering, Laviolette is known for having an offensive philosophy, while Trotz had a reputation for his defensive theory. Heck, he even had a theory named after him.
A product of their environments? Will the Predators continue to be known as a team with a
boring defensively-minded focus? Or will we suddenly see them lighting mups all over the league?
I've Already Ruined My Intended Formatting by Talking about these Players at the Beginning of the Article, but I'm Still Going to Cling to It by Continuing with the Heading of Free Agent Signings
Ribs, Roy, Jokinen. Done. Moving on.
But wait! Here's something. They're all on one year deals. In a current market where players not worthy of them get ridiculously long contracts, here's looking at you Matt Niskanen, the Predators somehow managed to sign three decent players to one year deals. Sure, Ribeiro is a gamble and might be considered lucky to be playing at all, but the other two? And do the Predators not want them beyond a year? Who knows? But I have to say that as far as the Preds are concerned, landing these three players for relatively cheap ($4.55 million for all three) and only on 'trial' contracts has to be considered a win.
Out with the Old?
The only real names of note, besides the aforementioned Barry Trotz, who won't be returning are the two players traded to Pittsburgh for James Neal: Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Sure, Hornqvist has been a useful player for the Preds, scoring 53 points last season, but the return is worth so much more. So much more in fact, that some have wondered what Pittsburgh were thinking... Or maybe the Penguins decided they could stick anybody on the wing of Evgeni Malkin and have them become an All-Star.
The other name we won't see on opening night is Mike Fisher. A ruptured Achilles? Ouch. Best case would have him back on the ice sometime in November.
Until then, Mike Ribeiro and his six shades of sexy will have to lead the way.
* * *
Because I don't know everything (although you could be forgiven for thinking that was the case), I called in friend of the blog J.R. Lind to fill in a few blanks. If you don't know J.R.'s blog, III Communication, then you obviously didn't read Daily Links enough last year.
Here are his thoughts on the revitalization of the Nashville Predators:
1) Barry Trotz is gone. Talk about the end of an era. Oh wait, you already did... Fine then. Talk to me about a new era. Admit it, you're terrified now that Trotz is gone.
It is scary and not just because Peter Laviolette is himself scary. In Nashville, we literally only know one brand of hockey and now they've brought in someone who is almost antithetical to that. I'm so excited, I'm so excited. I'm so scared!
2) Olli Jokinen, along with Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy, form a nice little group of aging centers. How much is the loss of Mike Fisher for the beginning of the season going to hurt, considering those three might anchor your top three lines?
Even though Mike Fisher is the Number One Center, he's not really a number one center, if you catch my drift. I'm not sure that any of Jokinen, Ribeiro and Roy are true number ones either but they are a damn sight closer. The Preds have 10 forwards who have played center at one point or another now. I think with Ribeiro and Roy, you've found your 1 and 2 centers. Jokinen can play 3C or on the wing with one of the young guys (Calle Jarnkrok or maybe Colin Wilson) at pivot.
3) Seriously, what's with all the one-year contracts? Looking at the summer transactions for Nashville, one would think contracts only came in the one-year variety. Have I missed something? Are the Preds just really worried about cap space next year?
Last year, David Poile got blasted for handing out long deals to guys like Eric Nystrom, Matt Cullen and Matt Hendricks. This year, he tried something different with the three aforementioned centers and defenseman Anton Volchenkov (who might end up being the best pick of the lot) and signed some vet guys to short, cheap deals. Jokinen, Roy and Ribeiro combined make 4.55 million, almost $1 million less than Dave Bolland and just $50,000 more than Vinny Lecavalier.
I'm not sure that Poile is worried about space so much as he is doing what he had to do. Spezza nixed a trade to Nashville, Statsny signed in St. Louis, so Poile was patient and got some pretty solid players on digestible deals. And if it doesn't work? Those are three guys who are always on the trade radar in February and he can swap them for picks.
4) The one thing I rarely have a clue about with other teams is the prospect system. It's just so much to keep up with, ya know? Last year's draft saw the Preds steal local-boy Seth Jones away from the Stars, and he was able to have an immediate impact at the NHL level. How was this year's draft for ya'll, and what prospects are going to be looking to make a name for themselves as rookies this season? As in, which ones might I have actually heard of by the end of the season?
I'm not a huge prospect guy either, but the feeling is the Preds had a solid draft. They picked diminutive scorer Kevin Fiala at 11 and then a Russian (!) in the second round! They were generally praised around the league for their weekend. And of course, the biggest move of the offseason - swapping Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling for James Neal - came at the draft, as well.
Unless there's a rash of injuries, I'm not sure who all we'll see up with the big club this year (the disadvantage, if you can call it that) of signing a bunch of vets). One guy I know the Preds are high on is blueliner Jonathan Ismael Diaby. He's like 6'5 and 230ish. And he's very scary. He'll play the year in Milwaukee I imagine.
5) And lastly, Conference III is stacked. I know it, you know it, most of the league knows it. Given that, where do you think the Predators' offseason acquisitions will land them in the standings?
Well, we didn't mention that the Preds get Pekka Rinne for a full year, too (hopefully). That said, I think they can compete for a spot. I'm not sure they are going to put a scare in anyone, but if Laviolette can figure out where to play the forwards, there's no reason why they can't compete for 7th or 8th. [Edit: for a moment there I thought J.R. had jumped the gun on NHL expansion, but then I realized he meant 7th or 8th in the Conference. Playoff Chambers Pot here we come!]