Analysis: Poile Hopes Small Ball Works for Predators
Nashville Predators general manager David Poile's preference would have been to hit a home run this offseason. He's hoping a couple of singles and doubles are enough to get the team back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011.
"We have some quantity that hopefully will provide us with more quality," Poile told NHL.com on Tuesday after announcing the club had signed centers Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy to one-year contracts.
Poile would have felt he knocked it out of the park had he been able to lure a star center to Nashville who could have paired with James Neal to give the Predators a bona fide 1-2 punch on their first line, a necessity to compete with the best teams in the Western Conference. That's why he tried to get Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators last month.
Trading for players such as Neal and Spezza would have given the Predators' offense instant credibility, especially considering the up-tempo style they should play under coach Peter Laviolette.
Poile couldn't connect on the sweet spot of the bat. Spezza invoked his no-trade clause, squashing the move to Nashville and instead accepting a move to the Dallas Stars. Poile and the Predators had to re-adjust and try a different approach to improving their offense.
The plan started in earnest July 2 when Poile signed Olli Jokinen to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. With Jokinen, Mike Fisher, Matt Cullen, Colin Wilson, Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons, the Predators were hoping they could piece together enough center depth to compete for a playoff spot in a division that sent five teams to the postseason last season.
Then Fisher had surgery July 3 to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. The Predators expect him to miss four to six months, but it's such a significant injury that counting on Fisher at all next season is a risk.
Back to the drawing board went Poile. He came up with two bargain buys Tuesday, the kind that are of the low-risk, potentially high-reward variety that GMs crave yet rarely find.
The Predators are paying $2.05 million total for Ribeiro and Roy. Factor in Jokinen and their cost is up to $4.55 million for the players who should be their top three centers to start the season.
That's less than the New York Islanders are paying Mikhail Grabovski to be their No. 2 center for the next four seasons. It's $50,000 more than the Philadelphia Flyers are paying Vincent Lecavalier to be a fourth-line center behind Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
Even better is the term. Jokinen, Ribeiro and Roy are on one-year contracts. Nashville benefits if it works out; if experiment fails, Poile tries again next year.
Short of acquiring Spezza or a center of his ilk through a trade, this is the best possible scenario for the Predators. It has the potential to be better for Nashville than any trade might have been because the Predators might have better balance throughout their lineup.
"There's no question that we're going to have to have some flexibility here," Poile said. "I'm going to leave that up to Peter Laviolette."
There also is no question that the signings Poile made Tuesday come with some risk. That's expected when veteran players with strong resumes last this long in the free-agent signing period.
Nobody denies Ribeiro had off-ice family issues last season that led to his worst season in a decade and the Arizona Coyotes buying out the final three years of the four-year, $22 million contract he signed last summer. It's reasonable to have concerns about Ribeiro's character and his lifestyle away from the rink even if Poile and Ribeiro said Tuesday the issues he had been dealing with are in the past and the family is together and in a better place.
However, the fact is Nashville got a player one season removed from being a point-per-game center for $1 million on a one-year contract. Ribeiro has averaged 62 points per season during the past 10 seasons. It's unheard of to pay so little for a center who can provide so much.
Ribeiro is a steal if what he said Tuesday is true, that his issues away from the rink have been resolved. He seems aware that this opportunity likely will be his last in the NHL if he blows it.
"I know inside of me that I can still play and I'm committed to do well," Ribeiro said. "I want a new start but a good finish. I don't want to ruin my life. I really want to do well and prove people wrong. … I'm a healthy person and ready to be committed to a team and do well this year."
All the Predators can do is take him at his word.
"We can't have a distraction on our team. We can't have something that's affecting our franchise," Poile said. "Mike and his wife realize that. There is no tolerance for off-ice issues. This clearly is really his last chance."
Roy comes with his own set of baggage from injuries and inconsistent play during the past three seasons. Like Ribeiro, he needed a new start and sought out Nashville for one. Poile was more than willing to oblige not because he felt bad for Roy, but because Roy can help the Predators.
He was a top scorer for four-plus seasons before being set back by a series of injuries that started with season-ending knee surgery December 2010 and continued with shoulder surgery before the start of the 2012-13 season. He hasn't been the same scorer since the knee surgery, but there is reason to be optimistic he can get back to being that type of player in Nashville.
Roy is healthy and spending the summer in Toronto working out with former NHL player Gary Roberts. Players who train with Roberts typically enter the season in terrific shape because of the workout regimen and diet plan he puts them on.
Laviolette will put Roy in an offensive role. He didn't earn that opportunity last season, when he was a bottom-six forward averaging 13:37 of ice time per game with the St. Louis Blues. He should have a role on the Predators' power play. He will be counted on to score.
"This year there is going to be a lot of offense needed from me," Roy said. "I'm willing to take on that role and willing to put up some numbers."
In addition, these signings give Laviolette options at center and depth on the wing that didn't previously exist.
Roy is versatile enough to play either wing if one of Nashville's rookie centers, Jarnkrok or Sissons, is ready for a bigger role. But now the Predators don't have to rush Jarnkrok, Sissons or even Filip Forsberg because of the presence of Ribeiro, Roy and Jokinen.
Poile has admitted the Predators rushed Forsberg last season and he wasn't quite ready. He may need more seasoning in the American Hockey League this season. If he doesn't, Nashville will be better for it.
Matt Cullen was productive at left wing toward the end of last season and these signings are an indication that he might start this season in the same role rather than compete for a spot in the middle. Colin Wilson could be in the same position.
"We need changes. We need competition," Poile said. "I think what I've provided the coaching staff is some depth and some flexibility, and let the games begin."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl