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.