Mike Ribeiro

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.

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.

Early results very positive for Mike Ribeiro

By Jim Diamond

Mike Ribeiro’s exit from Phoenix was quick and unpleasant.

Prior to last season, the talented center inked a 4-year, $22 million deal with the then Phoenix Coyotes. After just one season in the desert, the team decided to buy out the remaining years of his contract, making him a free agent.

Following the buyout, stories emerged of personal problems that manifested themselves into being professional ones, causing Ribeiro problems with the team – reportedly being late for practice, late for the team bus, and even a shouting match with team head coach Dave Tippett.

Well into the free agency period, the Predators took a chance and signed Ribeiro to a one-year deal at just north of $1 million. With everyone calling it a last chance for him, Ribeiro has taken care of his off-ice issues and so far on-ice, the team’s top center looks to be on top of his game.

Against the Coyotes Tuesday night, Ribeiro scored once and added an assist. Not expected to score a ton of goals, he is tied for the team lead in that category with three. His five points also are tied for the best on the Predators so far on the young season.

Sure his goal Tuesday night was one he freely admitted to scoring while he attempted and fanned on a pass, but when things are going right for you, pucks like that go into the net.

Nashville brought him here mostly for his playmaking ability and he did just that on James Neal’s game-tying goal at 8:03 of the third.

Former Predator Martin Erat’s power play goal just 21 seconds earlier gave Arizona a lead, but Ribeiro found Neal in the left circle with a drop pass that the sniper buried behind Arizona goaltender Devan Dubnyk, another former, albeit very briefly, Predator.

Under terms of his buyout with the Coyotes per Cap Geek, he will receive $1,944,444 per season through the 2019-20. With his $1,050,000 salary with the Predators and based on an approximately 180 day season, he receives $10,802.46 from Arizona for each in-season day and $5,833.33 from the Predators.

Asked if he felt pressure to contribute in a game in which he was being paid by both teams, Ribeiro said the thought never crossed his mind.

“Yeah, I didn’t think about that,” he said. “I’m really focused on playing games. The salary comes with the job. It’s not something I was thinking about. I’m thinking about my game more than the salary.”

Following his media availability, Ribeiro walked down the hallway from the Predators dressing room toward the one for Arizona. There he greeted some former teammates and Coyotes staffers. Soon thereafter, Tippett emerged from the Arizona room to greet Ribeiro. The two shared a warm handshake and a long conversation.

Ribeiro is just six games into his “last chance” season here in Nashville. The early returns are very positive, both on the ice, and probably more importantly, off of it as well.

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.

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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.