No contract means no Ryan Ellis in training camp

By Jim Diamond

Thursday marked the start of training camp for the 2014-15 version of the Nashville Predators. The players went through their medical exams and a series of meetings before adjourning for the afternoon. One player who was noticeably absent from today’s proceedings was defenseman Ryan Ellis.

Ellis, a restricted free agent, has not yet come to terms on a new contract with the team. It is important to note that since he is not under contract, he is not deemed a holdout.

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Ellis’ agent Paul Krepelka said via email, “Nothing to report regarding any progress made toward a deal.”

Ellis is coming off of his three-year, entry-level deal that, per Cap Geek, paid him an average annual value of just over $1.4 million. In 80 games played last season, Ellis scored six goals and added 21 assists while averaging 16:04 of ice time per game. Two of Ellis’ goals were game-winners.

“We are in a contract negotiation with Ryan, and our goal remains to sign Ryan. The sooner we can do so, the better for both the team and for Ryan,” said Predators general manager David Poile, via email, late Thursday afternoon.

Friday is the start of on-ice practice sessions for the Predators. Under the guidance of new head coach Peter Laviolette, the players will take to the ice at Centennial Sportsplex. A new coach means new systems, so a player not in attendance runs the risk of falling behind on the learning curve. One thing working in Ellis’ favor in that respect is the fact that Phil Housley remained on the coaching staff following Barry Trotz’s departure. Housley ran the defense and power play units last season.

“My job is to make sure that this team is ready to go and the players in camp here are ready to play,” Laviolette said Thursday afternoon when asked specifically about Ellis. “When it comes to contracts, that goes upstairs, and you’d probably be best to talk to David about all that. Right now, we are focused on these guys and tomorrow should be fun.”

In another possible wrinkle to the situation, the Predators announced Thursday that they have added defenseman Brian Lee to the training camp roster on a tryout agreement. Lee has more than 200 games of NHL experience split between the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning. He did not play at all last season due to a knee injury. The first round (9th overall) pick of the Senators in 2005 will look to challenge for a spot on the Nashville roster.

The Predators play their first of six preseason games Tuesday in Tampa against the Lightning.

My “Candle in the Wind” style tribute to Josh Cooper’s departure from The Tennessean

By Jim Diamond

 

Goodbye Joshua Brett

From your first days as an intern

You were always a good guy and became a great friend

You didn’t fit into the newsroom of the future

That shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing for you

By firing you, like many others before,

Those asshats have all but killed a once proud paper

Be glad you are no longer employed there

 

And it seems to me you worked that beat

Like you cared about your audience

Never knowing when the next furlough or layoff would come

And I would have liked for you to stay

But I know you will go on to better things

As that paper continues to devolve into the abyss

An idea-thieving columnist stays

While hard workers like you, Chip, and Mo are gone

 

Sure you drink some weird-smelling tea

And your hand lotion smells even worse

But you were a great guy to have next to me the last four years

Your troll job last trade deadline day was masterful

Sending waves across North America

Thinking Leggy had been traded

And when he did go to Detroit later

You looked like a genius

 

And it seems to me you worked that beat

Like you cared about your audience

Never knowing when the next furlough or layoff would come

And I would have liked for you to stay

But I know you will go on to better things

As that paper continues to devolve into the abyss

An idea-thieving columnist stays

While hard workers like you, Chip, and Mo are gone

 

Your Twitter is quite bizarre

But that is part of your charm… I guess

Springsteen, The Room, and humidity

All in the regular rotation

But we put up with it

Since there was bound to be something about hockey to come

So as you put that paper in your rearview mirror

Know that we hope the best for you in the future

 

Photo set from Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers rookie game

Photos taken at the rookie game played between the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers Sunday, September 14, 2014 at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee.

Photo set from Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning Rookie game

Some photos from the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning rookie game played September 14, 2014 at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee.

 

Photo set from Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lighting rookie game

Photos taken at the rookie game played between the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, September 13, 2014 at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee.

Photos taken at the rookie game played between the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, September 13, 2014 at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

 

Photo set from Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers rookie game

Some photos of the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins rookie game played September 13, 2014 at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee.

Some photos of the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins rookie game played September 13, 2014 at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Ekblad, Drouin headline rosters headed for Nashville rookie tournament

By Jim Diamond

When the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Boston Bruins head to Nashville for next month’s rookie tournament, they will be bringing with them some players whose names were called very early in recent NHL Entry Drafts.

Aaron Ekblad, who the Panthers selected with the first overall selection in June’s draft, was announced as one of the 25 players Florida will bring to the Ford Ice Center, where each team will play one game against each of the other three during the September 13-16 tournament. Located in Antioch, the Ford Ice Center features Nashville’s two newest sheets of ice.

Ekblad sustained a concussion during Team Canada’s training camp game against the Czech Republic in early August, but told reporters, “The concussion is perfectly, completely gone. I feel great,” at last week’s NHL Rookie Symposium held in Toronto.

The Lightning’s roster features highly touted prospect Jonathan Drouin along with three other recent first round draft picks. Drouin was taken third overall in 2013. The Predators took defenseman Seth Jones one pick later.

Other first rounders slated to be in the Bolts lineup include goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012 – 19th overall) and defensemen Slater Koekkoek (2012 – 10th overall) and Anthony DeAngelo (2014 – 19th overall).

The Bruins will bring 20 players to Nashville, half of whom are attending their camp on a tryout basis. They will have two recent first round picks with them in forward David Pastrnak (2014 – 25th overall), and goaltender Malcolm Subban (2012 – 24th overall). Subban is the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens blueliner and 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban.

Nashville’s squad of 19 is the fewest of the four teams. 2014 first round selection Kevin Fiala (11th overall) and Filip Forsberg, taken ninth overall in 2012 by Washington headline the roster for the home-standing Predators.

The tournament schedule is as follows. All games will be played at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch and are open to the public. All times Central.

Saturday, Sept. 13
1 p.m. Florida vs. Boston
4:30 p.m. Nashville vs. Tampa Bay

Sunday, Sept. 14
4 p.m. Tampa Bay vs. Boston
7 p.m. Nashville vs. Florida

Tuesday, Sept. 16
10 a.m. Tampa Bay vs. Florida
1 p.m. Nashville vs. Boston

No hard feelings as Canadiens, Subban reach eight-year deal ahead of arbitration award

By Heather Engel

The Montreal Canadiens…without P.K. Subban? It was a question running through many minds following Friday’s arbitration hearing, before coming to a screeching halt on Saturday afternoon.

With a one-year arbitration award looming, Subban and the Canadiens reached an agreement on an eight-year deal worth a reported $72 million, an annual average value of $9 million per season. The contract is the richest and longest in team history, surpassing Carey Price’s six-year, $39 million pact signed in the summer of 2012.

“It’s not easy to negotiate an eight-year deal like this and ultimately that’s what both sides have wanted,” Subban explained on a conference call from Toronto. “Obviously [Friday], going through the arbitration hearing, it’s a part of the process, it’s a part of learning, part of the game, and it’s part of the CBA. We followed every step in terms of the process and that was a part of it but I’ve always felt strongly about being a Montreal Canadien. I never thought that I would end up anywhere else.”

Common expectation was that the two sides would reach a deal before stepping foot into the room with the arbitrator. Then 9 a.m. hit and there was nothing. The hearing got under way and the hours ticked by until all parties emerged from the room for good early in the afternoon.

General manager Marc Bergevin declined comment as did Don Meehan, Subban’s agent. The defenseman spoke but was measured. And while negotiations on a new contract could continue up until the arbitrator’s ruling was announced, Twitter was abuzz with speculation on what his future with Montreal might hold should the one-year award be the end result.

As much as talk as there is about the negativity associated with the process, Subban never felt it.

“When you hear different things about your game and critiques and so on and so forth, I think that stuff can be positive as well. I think a lot of people looked at the arbitration hearing as something that’s negative and I didn’t really see it that way,” he said. “I think the only thing that might be unsettling is that sometimes you just want to get a deal done.

“I have more respect for Marc Bergevin and Geoff Molson than any other time in my career since I’ve been in Montreal in terms of the way they conducted themselves. They’ve treated me very well, both on and off the ice, since I’ve been here,” added Subban, acknowledging that the input of Molson, owner and team president, throughout the process was “monumental”.

In his third off-season at the helm, Bergevin was facing his toughest moment yet – both from a hockey standpoint and in the public eye. Many felt it should never have gotten to the hearing after the GM held firm on a bridge contract two seasons ago. Subban, after all, had followed that up with a Norris Trophy in 2013 and a career year on the ice – including a team-leading 14 points in the playoffs – this past season.

“A lot of people that know Marc Bergevin know the type of guy he is; he cares a lot about his players and I know he cares a lot about me. He would never put a player in a position that would hurt him or hurt this team and this organization,” the blue-liner noted. “He’s been great for this team moving forward, he’s made some great decisions for this team in the best interest of this team, and a lot of people have to lay off of him now.

“I really don’t want to hear those negative comments towards those guys because they’ve done a great job and they’ve worked so hard to try and get this deal done.”

Lars Eller looking to build off strong playoffs with new long-term deal

By Heather Engel

The 2013-14 campaign was a tale of two seasons for Lars Eller. Now armed with a new four-year, $14 million contract, he’s looking to stick with the one that helped him earn it.

After putting up just 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 77 games – a drop-off from the career-high 30 recorded in the lockout-shortened season – Eller rebounded in a big way in the playoffs. His 13 points in 17 games led all Canadiens forwards in the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final and was just one shy of P.K. Subban’s team-high total. He also finished in a four-way tie for second among the club’s post-season goal-scorers with five goals.

“Of course it’s been a very mixed season for me performance-wise and certainly my playoffs probably helped my situation, there’s no doubt about that. But this goes longer than just one playoffs. It’s a relationship,” the center said on a conference call from Toronto’s Pearson Airport, on his way back to his native Denmark. “I’ve been here for four years now and (general manager) Marc (Bergevin) and the whole management knows me. We got to know each other well; they know what they have in me and I know what I have in them.”

Acquired in exchange for goaltender Jaroslav Halak in June 2010, Eller has shown flashes of a strong offensive game over the years but hasn’t been able to deliver on a regular basis. That he’s bounced around between the wing and his natural center spot – where he’s looked most comfortable – and has at times been saddled with linemates not known for their offense likely hasn’t helped.

Still, the 25-year-old knows it’s on him to take his game to the next level.

“I think the number one thing for me is consistency. I know when I’m on top of my game, there’s not much I want to change,” said Eller, who recorded just seven points (three goals, four assists) from Jan. 2 through April 5. “I want to improve in every area but I think most of all, consistency. I still think there’s something to gain in my offensive game and that’s probably where I can improve the most.”

His deal matches the one signed by teammate David Desharnais 16 months earlier. It also comes with new expectations for a player whose production potential has yet to be determined. Eller, though, isn’t worried about the added spotlight.

“A lot of times, your salary, your expectations and pressure go hand in hand, and I’ve seen that here in Montreal. But I put a lot of pressure on myself, too,” he said. “I think it also speaks to how much the organization believes in me and has faith in me. It’s really nice to know that they showed me that faith and now it’s up to me to go out and play the best hockey I can.”

Thursday’s agreement allowed Eller and the Canadiens to avoid Friday’s scheduled arbitration hearing. The process can be tough, with the potential for a player’s confidence to take a rather large hit.

“Of course it goes through your mind and once you file, you know it’s a possibility so you just have to be realistic with that, knowing that it could go that way. If I wasn’t fine with that then I wouldn’t have filed,” he noted. “But that being said, a longer term deal was something both sides were working towards through this whole process so going to arbitration was really more of a last resort if all other options failed. It’s not something we wanted to do but it’s something if we had to, we would have.”

He becomes the latest member of the Canadiens’ growing core to ink a long-term deal under Bergevin’s tenure, joining Desharnais, Alexei Emelin (four years), Max Pacioretty and Carey Price (both six years).

“We are very pleased to have agreed upon a long term agreement with Lars Eller. He is an important part of our group of young veterans,” Bergevin said in a statement. “He has a tremendous work ethic and a great attitude. He is the type of player you can rely on for his play at both ends of the rink.

“Lars can play big minutes against the opponents’ top players and still be an offensive threat. We are confident he will reach his full potential and become an impact player who will compete at a high level for many years to come.”

The deal leaves one name on Bergevin’s to-do list: Subban, who also filed for arbitration. A hefty raise looms for the star blue-liner, whose hearing is slated for Aug. 1, the final day of the arbitration period.

Giving a player a second chance not a first for Poile

By Jim Diamond

Despite his reputation as being conservative and one of the NHL’s old guard, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile has rolled the dice on more than one occasion on players who carried some degree of baggage with them into Nashville.

Poile should be commended for giving players another chance when many of his peers would not do the same.

In the early years of the Nashville franchise, Poile traded away Cliff Ronning, then the team’s only true star, leading scorer, and fan favorite, in exchange for Jere Karalahti. Prior to the trade, Karalahti was featured in a piece in Sports Illustrated that detailed his bout with addictions that included heroin and LSD. In the end, Karalahti could not overcome his substance abuse issues while in Nashville, and he was eventually suspended and allowed to become a free agent after playing just 15 games with the Predators.

To Poile’s credit, that situation did not dissuade him from bringing in other players who also had substance abuse issues in their past as evidenced by the acquisitions of Brian McGrattan and Rich Clune.

The Predators claimed McGrattan off of waivers in October of 2011 and Clune, also off waivers, just before the start of the lockout-shortened 2013-14 season in January 2013. Since being claimed by the Predators, both McGrattan, now with the Calgary Flames, and Clune have stuck in the NHL and earned new contracts while also speaking openly of their battles with substance abuse away from the ice.

Tuesday’s signing of Mike Ribeiro to a one-year, $1.05 million dollar deal is the latest chapter in Poile’s book of second chances.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney made headlines with his comments to the Arizona Republic following the team’s announcement that they were buying out the three remaining years on his contract. “Mike had some real behavior issues last year with us I felt we could not tolerate going forward,” Maloney told the newspaper.

Those are pretty harsh words, and even if true, they are not something often heard from an NHL general manager.

Poile said Tuesday that the Predators did their due diligence on Ribeiro, consulting many who knew him. But Poile also said that he spent time with Ribeiro and his wife before making the offer to join the Predators.

Many have said that the Ribeiro contract is low risk at just one year and relatively little money at just north of a million dollars. While that may be true in theory, there is a decent amount of risk involved in bringing in a player who had problems in his previous location. Players who miss meetings, flights, and have shouting matches with their coach – all things that reportedly happened with Ribeiro in Phoenix – have the potential to tear apart a locker room.

Ribeiro has all the incentive in the world to make things work in Nashville; not so much on the ice but more off of it. He revealed that many of his issues in Phoenix stemmed from marital difficulties that caused a separation from his wife and children for a time. The family has been reunited now, and the family was in Nashville checking things out to see if it would be a good fit for them. Things going right at home will go a long way toward getting them going in the right direction on the ice.

Poile said that this would be Ribeiro’s last chance. At 34 years old and with the reputation at his last stop in Phoenix, that isn’t hyperbole on Poile’s part. Should problems present themselves in Nashville, it will likely be Ribeiro’s last NHL stop. Given that it took him two weeks to land a one-year deal at a salary way below what a player of Ribeiro’s quality should earn on the open market, not too many general managers were calling him with better offers.

Good on Poile for giving him that chance, though.