Ribeiro’s three assists have him on pace to eclipse franchise record

By Jim Diamond

Halfway through the overtime period of Tuesday night’s game against the visiting Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro found himself inside his own blue line along the boards near the Colorado bench. Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay came charging at Ribeiro, so he calmly lifted a saucer pass to Craig Smith near center ice.

After taking control of the puck, Smith had a clear breakaway and won the game with a wrist shot just past the glove of goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

“There was a guy coming behind me I think, and I didn’t want to go too hard so he couldn’t reach it,” Ribeiro said. “I was just trying to give him time to get close to the blue line, just put it in an area that he can just skate with it and not force it too much. Great goal.”

The assist was the third of the night for Ribeiro, the second time this season that the Montreal native has posted three helpers in a game. Ribeiro’s teammates marvel at his ability to find them with a perfect pass no matter where they are on the ice and no matter how many opponents are surrounding him.

“He’s great in high-pressure situations,” Smith said. “He seems to have a knack for just holding onto the puck and finding your stick. He seems to be pretty patient and calm, so whenever he has it, you’ve got to be ready.”

Ribeiro picked up a pair of secondary assists on Nashville’s first two goals, an even strength goal by Roman Josi and a power-play marker from Colin Wilson.

After 46 games, Ribeiro has 32 assists on the season, good for .70 assists per game. Paul Kariya holds the franchise record for assists in a season. He posted 54 in 2005-06, which equated to .66 per game.

Rookie Filip Forsberg had the other goal for Nashville Tuesday, the lone unassisted goal of the night. He has played nearly the entire season on Ribeiro’s wing and has been the recipient of many of Ribeiro’s passes, even if he isn’t quite sure how the puck ends up on his stick.

“I’ve been playing with him all year, and I still don’t understand how he does it sometimes,” Forsberg said. “That saucer pass to Smitty on the game winner there, there’s only a few select players that can do that.”

After a week off due to the All-Star break, Ribeiro’s hands were anything but rusty after the extended layoff.

“I think it is more your legs than anything,” Ribeiro said. “If you move your feet, the rest gets going. I think it is more mental than anything. You have that break, guys go away, and to be focused yourself to come back and have a good game, I think it’s hard to do.”

But he did do it, and the team will need him to continue to do so as the anchor of the team’s top line if they want to further the success they have had through the first 46 games of the season. And if he does, he may just find himself at the top of the list of the franchise’s most prolific passers.

Barry Trotz looking forward to a ‘home’ game in Nashville

By Jim Diamond

Barry Trotz was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and as the head coach of the Washington Capitals, he now lives in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia. But during a Tuesday afternoon conference call with the media in advance of Friday night’s game at Bridgestone Arena against the Nashville Predators, Trotz referred to Nashville as home on three different occasions.

It’s not a big surprise though. During the press conference held the day it was announced he would not return behind the Nashville bench, Trotz said that Nashville would always be home for him, but to hear him say it eight months removed from that emotional day hit, well, home.

“I’m excited, I’m excited to get back home and see some friends and get to see my family a little bit,” Trotz said when describing his feelings about Friday’s game. “I’m excited. It’s good to go back home.”

Hired to be Nashville’s first head coach soon after it was awarded a franchise, Trotz didn’t expect to last through the conclusion of the 2013-14 season in that same position.

“I just wanted to coach for a year and found a home in Nashville, Tennessee,” he said.

Trotz’s three adult children still live in the city, so he is looking forward to seeing them and spending what time he can with them while he is in town. In addition to his biological offspring, Trotz thinks pretty highly of some of the players on what will be the opposing team Friday night.

“I am so happy for Pekks,” Trotz said when asked about the performance of Pekka Rinne entering Tuesday’s action. “There are a lot of people you come across in this business that you love as your own children… Pekka is one of them.”

Rinne is one of Trotz’s now former players who have stayed active in Best Buddies, a charity that Trotz holds near and dear to his heart. Best Buddies pairs ‘buddies’ with individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Moves can be hard on anyone, but the Trotzs’ move to the nation’s capital was a little tougher than an average family’s relocation because of the impact that it had on their youngest child, 13-year-old Nolan. Nolan has Down Syndrome, and living in suburban Nashville was all he knew prior to his father being hired to lead the Capitals.

“Originally it was pretty difficult,” Trotz said. “The school systems were a lot different here than they were in Brentwood. He had a great situation in Brentwood in terms of classroom, teachers, friends, all of those things. He had a pretty good setup. He was involved in a lot of things. He also had his brother and sisters that would come by the house almost daily or on the weekends grab him and have him over for a sleepover, those types of things. When we got here, it became pretty lonely for him real quickly because he didn’t have a lot of friends here and being special needs, it was a little bit difficult.”

It was a tough transition for Nolan, which meant it was incredibly painful for his parents, Trotz and his wife Kim.

“We found it was probably heart wrenching for mom and dad at first because we’d find him in his room looking through his yearbook and circling his friends,” Trotz said. “You could tell there was a sadness in his heart.”

Trotz reports that Nolan has made some strides in healing that sadness, and the family business has played a large part in that transformation.

“He’s starting to come out of it,” Trotz said. “He’s learning to play hockey, which he never liked to play hockey. We got him some hockey equipment and told him he’s Iron Man – he loves the superheroes, so we put a pair of skates on him and got him skating. He’s now starting to be a part of a special needs hockey program that they have here. He’s starting to make headway in that area.”

Trotz’s return to Nashville will be brief, as the Capitals have a road game in Dallas on Saturday. While Trotz will sleep in a hotel room Thursday night, step onto the visiting team’s bench Friday night, and lead a team other than the Predators for the first time inside Bridgestone Arena, he will be right at home.

Miikka Salomaki celebrates his first goal with Calle Jarnkrok. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Miikka Salomaki’s first NHL goal puck retrieved by a childhood hero

By Jim Diamond

Click on images to enlarge

Late in the second period of Thursday night’s game against the visiting Dallas Stars, Predators forward Miikka Salomaki was in the slot in the Dallas zone, a step ahead of Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. Salomaki’s initial shot was stopped by Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, but that rebound… oh that rebound.

Miikka Salomaki with a step on Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Miikka Salomaki with a step on Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

With his skates just outside the blue ice of Lehtonen’s crease, Salomaki pounced on that rebound and deposited it behind his fellow Finn for the first goal of his NHL career. As he skated toward the corner, he snuck a peek over his shoulder, just to make sure the puck was in the net.

Miikka Salomaki's scores his first NHL goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Miikka Salomaki’s scores his first NHL goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

“I wasn’t sure at first that it went in or not,” he said. “Just awesome feeling.”

Miikka Salomaki's celebrates his first NHL goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Miikka Salomaki’s celebrates his first NHL goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

And with that goal, Salomaki joined an exclusive club of players who scored their first career goal in their first career game.

Salomaki made quite an impression on his head coach.

“It was a good first impression, right?” Peter Laviolette said. “Guys get sent down to the minors and they go and work on their game. Last year, he was one of the top guys there. This year, reports on him have been very good. He comes up and plays a straight north game, a hard game. The goal was a good example of that; get it and go, right down the middle. I thought he played a real solid game.”

Recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League earlier Thursday, Salomaki was needed due to the sudden spike in injuries the Predators are experiencing at forward.

It was the second recall in the span of less than a week for Salomaki. He was brought up in time for last weekend’s two games in Southern California, but he did not see action against the Kings or the Ducks and was sent back to Milwaukee on Monday.

“It was good to get called up last week too,” he said. “I didn’t play, but I think it was good for me to see how people do things here and get in more.”

Getting a chance to be in the lineup Thursday, Salomaki made the most of it. Laviolette put him on a line with veteran Olli Jokinen, a Finn who Salomaki grew up watching and admiring. The two played together for Finland at the World Championships last summer.

“We played on the same line there the first few games,” Jokinen said. “He’s a good kid. He works hard. What you saw tonight, that’s what you are going to see from him.”

Jokinen made Salomaki’s transition to the NHL easier.

“It was so nice to play with him,” Jokinen said. “He’s been one of the best players of Finland like 20 years or something like that, and I’ve been watching him.”

And good guy Olli showed one of the reasons why he is so loved by his teammates. As linesman Brad Kovachik was about to fish the puck out of the Dallas net, Jokinen kindly requested the puck from Lehtonen so that his linemate would have a souvenir of his milestone.

Olli Jokinen gets Miikka Salomaki's first goal puck from linesman Brad Kovachik. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Olli Jokinen gets Miikka Salomaki’s first goal puck from linesman Brad Kovachik and goaltender Kari Lehtonen. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

“You want to make sure they don’t shoot the puck away,” Jokinen said. “Sometimes the refs take the puck and switch the puck. You want to act quick and make sure that is actually the puck he put in. It was actually nice that Finnish goalie Lehtonen, he gave it to me.”

Asked if he remembered who got his first NHL goal puck, Jokinen smiled and said, “It was Ray Ferraro. I remember scoring the goal. Ferraro passed it to me behind the net and he grabbed the puck. I still have the puck in the office. It’s a great memory.”

You always remember the first one. And thanks to Jokinen, Salomaki will have that puck.

And since Jokinen’s hair looked so good skating away with the puck, here’s a shot of him doing just that.

Olli Jokinen skates away with Miikka Salomaki's first goal puck. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Olli Jokinen skates away with Miikka Salomaki’s first goal puck. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro takes a faceoff. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Mike Ribeiro: ‘No rush’ for talk about a new contract

By Jim Diamond

New Year’s Day is more than just an opportunity to eat black-eyed peas, at least as far as the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHLPA is concerned anyway. Jan.1 marks the day that players who were signed to one-year Standard Player Contracts may enter into new deals with their current teams.

One such player who fits into this category is Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro. After the Arizona Coyotes bought out the final three years of his four-year contract with them last offseason, Ribeiro signed a one-year, $1.05 million deal with the Predators July 15th.

Playing in all 36 games so far this season, Ribeiro has had a strong start to his time with the Predators, scoring nine goals and adding 21 assists. While the hockey season isn’t yet half over, Ribeiro hopes that calendar year 2015 continues on the positive path that the second half of 2014 had for him both on and off of the ice.

“Hopefully I can start this year a little bit better than last year,” Ribeiro said following Thursday’s practice. “It’s a new year and hopefully it can be a full year for me and not half a year and stay on the same track and help the team win.”

When he signed with the Predators, Ribeiro openly discussed how problems in his personal life affected him professionally. Now with the former markedly better, the latter has followed suit. Ribeiro said that he and his family are enjoying living in Nashville.

“It’s been pretty low-key,” he said. “I’m trying to focus on work and family and we have a great group of guys here too helping me through the year. I’m just happy to be here.”

Another guy who is happy about Ribeiro being in Nashville is Predators head coach Peter Laviolette.

“He’s been excellent since day one,” Laviolette said. “He’s seamlessly fit right into the team and a big part of the team internally here in the locker room, but his on-ice play has been outstanding. Another guy that is a big reason why we sit where we sit.”

Since early on in training camp, Laviolette has had Ribeiro centering the team’s top line. One of his linemates for most of the season has been rookie winger Filip Forsberg.

“He’s a really smart player,” Forsberg said. “I just try to get open and I know he will find me. He’s also a great guy outside the rink. He’s been in the league a really long time, so he knows what it takes to be successful, so I just try to pick up as much as I can from him.”

With Ribeiro as his center, Forsberg has 14 goals and 21 assists through 36 games, Forsberg is at the top of the list of candidates for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL’s top rookie.

When asked about his contract status, Ribeiro said he is not in a huge hurry to work on a new deal just yet.

“If it happens, it happens,” he said. “I think we will probably wait until the end of the year. I don’t see the rush, but if they are ready to talk, obviously we will talk, but there’s no rush for that.”

As a result of being one of few, if not the only team willing to take a gamble on Ribeiro last summer, the Predators are getting a significant discount on a highly productive top line center at just north of a million dollars. Ribeiro will turn 35 in February, but with the market for top-six forwards looking very thin, he will be eligible for a significant raise.

And money may not be so much of a driving concern for Ribeiro thanks to the buyout money he is receiving from the Coyotes. Arizona will pay Ribeiro just shy of $2 million per season through 2019-20.

For now, he is happy with his situation in Nashville. He said that he didn’t think his agent has had any discussions with Predators general manager David Poile as of yet and he is just worried about playing right now.

Columbus Arch (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Columbus; go for the hockey, stay for the donuts

By Jim Diamond

Tell someone you are traveling to Columbus, Ohio for a hockey game and the first response you get is usually something to do with Tim Hortons. And after all, who doesn’t enjoy a good donut? Sure Tim’s is good and all, but there is just something a little bit off eating at one outside of Canada. It’s what I imagine eating at a KFC outside of the United States is like. Sure you will still see the Colonel’s face on the big bucket of chicken, but those 11 herbs and spices will just taste different for some reason.

Anyway, more on the donuts later.


Viktor Stalberg era likely over in Nashville

By Jim Diamond

Flash back to the summer of 2013. Coming off of a miserable lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Nashville Predators went on a spending spree on July 5th, the first day of free agency.

The most repeated phrase that day was, “The Predators paid how much? For who?” Nashville raised the white flag on one of those signees Thursday when they put forward Viktor Stalberg on waivers.

Forwards Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks, and Eric Nystrom were all inked to multi-year deals in an effort to change Nashville’s low goal totals as well as collect the “entertainment tax” then head coach Barry Trotz wanted opponents to pay when they entered Bridgestone Arena.

“A couple of injuries early in the season have prevented this from being the season Viktor trained all summer for,” General Manager David Poile said in a release.  “He has worked hard to return to the lineup. With Paul Gaustad and Taylor Beck day-to-day and still on our 23-man roster, the best option for Viktor and the organization at this time is to place Viktor on waivers with the hope that he will clear, go to Milwaukee to play games and continue his efforts to be ready for NHL game action.”

Not to put words in Poile’s mouth, but I’m pretty sure what he REALLY hopes is that one of the league’s 29 other teams rushes to their fax machine and sends in a waiver claim on Stalberg.

Stalberg is in the second year of a four-year, $12 million contract. Coming in as a free agent after his time with the Chicago Blackhawks, it was thought that Stalberg just needed an opportunity to crack the top two lines of a team in order for his offensive numbers to take off. Heck, he was just a season removed from scoring 22 with the Blackhawks in 2011-12.

Poile took a shot. Stalberg did look like a guy who just needed some ice time, but it didn’t work out for him.

Even with forwards just a shade less talented than Chicago’s, Stalberg couldn’t make the top six in Nashville. He had just eight goals and 10 assists in 70 games played last season. Injuries and players who are better than he is have troubled Stalberg this season. The injuries will heal, but the fact that there are many ahead of him on the depth chart will not.

Poile was somehow able to unload Hendricks’ four-year deal last January when he sent the rugged winger off to Edmonton in exchange for goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk was terrible in his brief shot in Nashville, but moving Hendricks in that deal should have given Poile consideration for general manager of the year.

There is little to no chance of another team taking Stalberg’s contract off of Poile’s hands. And by little to no, it is really no to no chance. The official word of his clearing waivers will come Friday at 11 am CT.

When he clears, he will officially be assigned to Milwaukee. There is a Catch 22 associated with that move. He could find his game down there and become attractive to another team, but the problem with that course of action is that if he is put in the Admirals’ lineup, he will be taking ice time away from prospects.

The most ideal situation for all would be if Stalberg does find a spark in the AHL and Poile is able to find a trading partner for him. That will be a tall task even with the Predators able to absorb some of the remaining money on that contract.

As far as dollars and cents are concerned, Stalberg is due $3.5 million in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. His cap hit is $3 million for each of the contract’s seasons.

In all likelihood, Stalberg ends up in Milwaukee for the rest of the season and the final two years on his contract are bought out next summer. 

Eric Nystrom pumps his fist in celebration of his goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom has eventful two shifts at the end of the first period Thursday

By Jim Diamond

Late in the first period of Thursday night’s game against St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro was sent off for a hooking penalty at 16:53. As is custom, Eric Nystrom was one of the forwards who got the tap on the shoulder to go out and start the penalty kill. One difference was that Paul Gaustad, Nystrom’s normal penalty killing compadre, was not out there with him due to the fact that Gaustad was scratched because of a lower-body injury. Mike Fisher joined Nystrom for the start of the penalty kill.

Things got hairy quickly for Nystrom early in that kill after his stick was broken after blocking an Alexader Steen shot and drifted harmlessly into the neutral zone. He was stuck out there sans twig, as heading to the bench for a change or a replacement stick with the puck in the defensive zone would have been akin to giving the Blues a 5-on-3 advantage.

“You’re just useless once you have no stick on a penalty kill, you’re just trying to get in the way out there,” Nystrom said. “Earlier in the season, I went to the bench to grab a stick and the guy went back door and ended up scoring. We decided it was probably best just have a body in the way out there. I battled it out. It was tiring.”

So Nystrom did what he could in trying to fill the passing and shooting lanes tried to make himself as big as he could.

“Lucky it was him, he’s one of our veteran PK players and kills a lot of penalties,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “That was one of the key kills in the game and overall, I thought that we did a really good job on PK.”

Later in the long 1:26 shift, Nystrom was able to chase down the puck near the left boards before clearing it just over the blue line with a jai alai type move with his glove. Soon thereafter, he was able to change and the penalty was over not long after that.

“Right at the end of the penalty kill and get it out,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought he had a good game. Mike Fisher and Ny did a good job, penalty killers in general.”

After a brief rest, Nystrom’s name was called again, this time for a shift at even strength. It wasn’t nearly as long as his previous one, but it ended with him scoring Nashville’s second goal of the game, and it was the kind of goal that brings a smile to a coach’s face.

Let’s look at the photos:

Eric Nystrom open for a pass. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom open for a pass. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Fresh out of the penalty box, Ribeiro has the puck on the left boards, so Nystrom goes to an open space and gets into a good shooting position with his head up, shoulders square to the passer, and his stick ready for a one-timer.

“He’s such a good passer that he just put it right in my wheelhouse and I shot it as quick as I could and got lucky,” Nystrom said.

Eric Nystrom gets off a shot from the slot. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom gets off a shot from the slot. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Vladimir Tarasenko tries to close the gap on Nystrom, but he’s too late and the puck is already en route toward Blues goaltender Martin Brodeur, and yes, it’s weird writing that.

Eric Nystrom absorbs a hit from Vladimir Tarasenko (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom absorbs a hit from Vladimir Tarasenko (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Tarasenko continues on and finishes the hit, knocking Nystrom to the Bridgestone Arena ice. Nystrom takes a hit to make a play.

“I didn’t even feel it,” Nystrom said. “When you know they go in, you don’t really even think about that.”

Eric Nystrom pumps his fist in celebration of his goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Eric Nystrom pumps his fist in celebration of his goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

While still on a knee, Nystrom gives a subtle fist pump in celebration of his fifth goal of the season.

The Predators celebrate Eric Nystrom's goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

The Predators celebrate Eric Nystrom’s goal. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

And then there was much rejoicing with friends.

Wild Turkey (Jim Diamond)

Favorite Thanksgiving foods of some U.S.-born Predators

By Jim Diamond

On the eve of Thanksgiving in the United States, many will gather around the dinner table Thursday to celebrate the holiday with friends and family. With a Thursday evening game against the Edmonton Oilers on the schedule, it is a workday for the Nashville Predators, so a gigantic feast and an L-tryptophan induced sleep is not in the cards for the players.

When asked about their traditional Thanksgiving routines, many of the American-born Predators said that when they were growing up, they were often away from home playing in hockey tournaments this time of year, so it was difficult to develop many family traditions revolving around Thanksgiving. For Seth Jones and Eric Nystrom, their fathers being professional athletes made getting together for turkey on the assigned day that much more of a challenge.

“It was pretty tough, but we tried to sit down as a family,” Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, said. “It’s not like an overwhelming meal, but we tried to sit down and have a nice family dinner together.”

“There’s not too many Thanksgivings that I can say that I have spent with the family,” Nystrom said. “The whole family goes to Florida for the holidays, so there is no way I was going to get them to come to some of the places I have played around the holidays. They FaceTime me, so that is nice.”

Despite the fact that their Thanksgiving routines may differ from the general populace, several of the American Predators weighed in on their favorite Thanksgiving food items.

Jones: “I would probably say the sweet potatoes. You put some marshmallows and brown sugar on top, makes it a little better.”

Nystrom: “I go for the dark meat turkey, straight for it. Protein all day. My mom makes a great apple crisp that’s amazing that I always dive face-first into. Maybe she will send me the recipe and I will make it this year. Just small portions though. I like to push away before I get to the point where I feel like I am going to explode.”

Matt Cullen: “I was a huge fan of the stuffing. When I was a kid, I used to eat it until I was sick. I do love it. I used to love Thanksgiving, I still do. We used to have huge meals. We play on Thanksgiving Day, so we always have to adjust our schedules a little bit. It’s a little bit of a challenge with the travel and everything, but we make time to do it.”

Paul Gaustad:  “My wife makes the whole Thanksgiving dinner. She’s fantastic at it. Her turkey is the best. Thanksgiving is my favorite.”

Your annual quarter pole reminder

By Jim Diamond

It seems like the 2014-15 NHL season just began, but teams are starting to edge toward 20 games played on the season already, and in the case of the San Jose Sharks, they played their 21st Tuesday night in snowy Buffalo.

With a quarter of the season almost in the books, people will begin to look at the progress of the teams they cheer for or cover to date. One reference that always seems to sneak its way into these reviews will be to that of the quarter pole.


To those unfamiliar with horse racing, the quarter pole marks the point on the racetrack that signifies one quarter of a mile remaining in the race. Since horse races are of different lengths and the finish line is at a fixed point on the track, the starting point of the race is adjusted based upon the length of each particular race.

So while we encourage the use of references to the sport of kings, please save the quarter pole ones until game 61 or so. Right now, go with quarter point or quarter mark.

Stu Grimson leader in the clubhouse for simile of the year award

When Filip Forsberg struck at 7:20 of the second Saturday night, it marked his fifth goal in four games. Predators color analyst Stu Grimson punctuated the occasion nicely when he dropped this gem on the Fox Sports Tennessee telecast:

“That youngster’s hot, like a tube sock in a dryer hot.”