The 2014-15 season didn’t end the way they wanted it to in Nashville, but the Predators took tremendous strides forward as an organization this year. They successfully moved on from the Barry Trotz era, ushering in an offensive brand of hockey under the tutelage of Peter Laviolette and made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. At the center of it all (literally) was Mike Ribeiro.
The veteran forward was bought out by the Arizona Coyotes a year ago and was in search of a fresh start as a pro hockey player. He found that opportunity in Nashville, where GM David Poile wisely inked Ribeiro to a low-risk/high-reward one-year contract. At 35, the former second-round draft pick knew that he needed to put up some decent numbers in what amounted to a “prove it” season.
Ribeiro delivered, scoring 15 goals and adding 47 assists while centering Nashville’s top line. He brought the best out of rookie Filip Forsberg and was the perfect complement to James Neal. That leaves the Predators in a bit of a jam though. Do they now give Ribeiro enough term for him to finish his career in Music City? He was looking for that kind of extension in the summer of 2013 when he was with the Washington Capitals, but ex-General Manager George McPhee refused to give it.
Ribeiro on leaving the Capitals: "My thinking was if I have a great season they'll keep me there or find a way to keep me there."
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) July 5, 2013
The Coyotes were willing to give him term and signed him to a four-year deal, but bought him out one season later due to “behavioral issues.”
Poile in Preds statement: "We have done our due diligence…" Ribeiro bought out by Coyotes for what Maloney called "behavioural issues."
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) July 15, 2014
Ribeiro was able to leave those problems behind in Tennessee, having his best statistical season in four years. He’d be an above-average No. 2 center, but the Predators don’t really have any up-and-coming pivots that could knock him off of the top line. They can either re-sign him or go shopping on July 1.
This free agent class is one of the weakest in recent memory, and it could be argued that Ribeiro is the most desirable UFA center available anyway. He’s spoken out and said that he’d like to remain in Nashville…
"I'd love to be back with the #Preds next season." – Ribeiro
— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) April 27, 2015
…and Poile has expressed the desire to keep him in the fold.
"It was exactly what the doctor ordered…if we don't have Mike Ribeiro, it would've been hard to make the playoffs." -Poile #Preds
— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) April 28, 2015
"Hopefully it's a marriage that wants to continue here in Nashville." -Poile on Mike Ribeiro #Preds
— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) April 28, 2015
It seems safe to operate under the assumption that the player and team are talking about an extension and looking to get a deal done. What should the Predators give Ribeiro then?
Despite the strong campaign he just had, it’d be dangerous to give him both money and term. In a perfect world the veteran could ride off into the sunset with a four-year, $22 million contract like the one he had in Arizona, but that might not make long-term sense for the organization. Ribeiro is at the magic age of 35, which means the team is on the hook even if he retires or they try to bury him in the minors à la Mike Richards.
That should be a big hangup for Poile if Ribeiro is looking for more than two or three seasons. If he’s after that kind of job security, then a pay cut will likely be required.
Looking around the NHL, the teams that run into salary cap issues typically hand out long, lucrative contracts to players within a year or two of their inevitable decline. Ribeiro has already bucked the trend by producing at his typical level beyond his 30th birthday. Expecting him to be a 60-plus point guy at 37 or 38 will only lead to disappointment and cap issues for Nashville.
That’s where the shallow free agent market could come into play. It won’t be lost on Ribeiro that 2015 doesn’t feature many centers capable of playing a top-six role. Unless teams want to take a chance on the likes of Olli Jokinen or Daniel Briere, Ribeiro might be the top option out there.
It’s clear what is important to the Predators: they’ll want to keep the player without putting a massive dent in their cap. It’ll be up to Ribeiro to decide what’s more important to him at this stage of his career. Poile should table a two-year, $9 million contract and see where things go from there. That’s a substantial raise over the $1.05 million that Ribeiro made in 2014-15. The term prevents the team from being up a creek if the forward’s game drops off this season, and it also allows him to comfortably settle in and retire as a Predator whenever he’s ready.
There’s a little wiggle room there obviously, but Poile has a number of free agents to deal with this summer and needs to keep cap space cleared for Seth Jones and Forsberg. Both of their entry-level deals end in 2016-17, and the Predators could be looking to buy up one or two of their UFA years given how stellar they have been as young players in the NHL.
Signing older veterans is always a bit risky, but Ribeiro has earned this particular extension and the Predators wouldn’t be able to easily replace him if they let him go.