Nashville Predators general manager David Poile usually pitches free agents on joining his team. He didn’t expect to be pitched by a free agent.
After taking a humiliating buyout from the Arizona Coyotes, in which GM Don Maloney cited “behavioral issues” in eating the last three years of their deal, Mike Ribeiro called Poile to inquire if there was a match between the team and the 34-year-old free agent. The Predators’ offensive needs, specifically in the middle, were no secret. Neither were Ribeiro’s personal issues, including problems in his marriage.
So Poile, Ribeiro and his wife Tammy all got on a Skype call and spoke candidly. Poile wasn’t sure where they left things. Ribeiro, meanwhile, made another bold move: Calling Peter Laviolette, the Predators’ new coach, to further discuss his potential role with the team. Laviolette then called Poile, and said they had a good chat.
With talks progressing, but without a contract, Ribeiro and his family flew to Nashville to get a feel for the community – on their own dime. They spent four days assessing the town, the schools, the vibe. They reached out to former Predators players like J.P. Dumont for more intel.
On Monday night, Poile called Ribeiro, asking what his family thought of Nashville. Ribeiro said they liked it, but that it was their last night there, needing to fly back west.
“I said, ‘Would you like to sign here?’” recalled Poile.
With that, the two sides reached a 1-year, $1.05-million deal (thanks, Coyotes buyout money!) that gives the Predators the chance to potentially find a No. 1 center ... and Ribeiro a chance to potentially find himself again.
“I just want to prove to everyone that I can still play, and that I am a good person,” said Ribeiro on Tuesday, at an introductory press conference.
“Like David said, it’s not just about a new start but a good finish. I don’t want to ruin my life. I want to do well.”
Ribeiro signed a 4-year, $22-million deal with the Coyotes last summer, moving his family out west. But his life was turned upside down when he and his wife separated during the season.
“I didn’t really see my children during the year. I think that made me not focus on my job. I was not focused. Not committed to my job because of my issues. I just wanted the year to be over so I could focus on them,” he said.
That lack of focus manifested in missed meetings, missed team buses and occasional shouting matches in the Coyotes locker room. Things got so bad that Dave Tippett, who coached Ribeiro with the Dallas Stars, made him a healthy scratch for the first time in his career during the Coyotes’ playoff race.
Then came Maloney’s dismissal of Ribeiro from the franchise via a buyout, and his infamous parting words about the veteran’s behavior.
“It didn’t make me feel good, but I give him the chance to say what he said because of my year last year,” said Ribeiro.
“If I do well Maloney will be in the past.”
Why bring in damaged goods if you’re the Predators? Well, it begins with that need at center, especially after Mike Fisher’s Achilles injury will keep him out for up to six months. But Ribeiro also gives Poile the chance to do something rather important: Making the best offensive player on the team happy.
James Neal was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins last month in a blockbuster trade. He’s a premiere goal-scoring winger in the NHL. The problem for Neal in Nashville: There’s no Evgeni Malkin to get him the puck.
Frankly, there wasn’t anybody.
Enter Ribeiro, who played with Neal when the two were in Dallas together.
“I think he’s happy that he’ll have someone to give him the puck,” said Ribeiro, who joins Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy in filling out the middle.
If Ribeiro’s learned anything in the last two years, it’s that happiness is fleeting. Happiness must be earned, and fought to be maintain. His family is back together, moving to a place both physically and metaphorically “healthier” than where they’ve been. And for Ribeiro, his happiness as a player begins at home.
“We’re happier now that we’re together again. Like every family or couple, it’s not paradise every day. We work on our issues as a family and move forward,” he said.
His new boss is hoping for the best, even as he acknowledges that nothing is guaranteed.
“We all like to have that utopian situation, but we don’t live in a world like that,” said Poile. “He knows he’s living day to day. He’s on a one year contract.
“I’m praying. Got my fingers crossed for him.”