The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years, and now it is the offseason and the landscape is definitely changing, salary cap issues are causing some restructuring in Chicago and St. Louis while the Nashville Predators look to capitalize.
So close to the top of the league, Nashville is looking to fortify a team that gave the champion ‘Hawks their toughest series. The first two dominoes fell with the crucial re-signings of forwards Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro. They later added forward Cody Hodgson from Buffalo and defenseman Barret Jackman from St. Louis. The additional re-signing of Gabriel Bourque helps keep the young nucleus together and a trade with Calgary brought them forward Max Reinhart, who they subsequently signed to a new contract.
The return of Mike Fisher is enormous. While he provided 19 goals and 39 points in 59 games, it is his leadership and intangibles that make him so important. Fisher wants to be here, had no interest in being anywhere else, and reportedly turned down more money to stay here. His wife had something to do with that, but Fisher wants to win a Stanley Cup here and nowhere else. That is a hurdle the Predators are still trying to clear in free agency, convincing veterans and elite talent that Nashville is a serious hockey market with serious aspirations to win the Cup. Fisher will be here at least two more years. At 35 he was hesitant to commit longer than that, but word is the deal will be renewed should he want to keep playing.
Mike Ribeiro was a huge risk for GM David Poile that paid off more handsomely than anyone imagined. Cast out of Phoenix, Ribeiro had about burned his bridges in the NHL when Poile took a flyer on him with an incentive-laden contract. Ribeiro had the most complete season of his career tallying 62 points, with 15 goals. Also 35, Ribeiro also signed a two-year deal. Nashville has much young talent, but veteran leadership is critical to win a championship. The Predators ensured they will have that foundation going forward.
The signing of gritty defenseman Barret Jackman is huge. At 34, Jackman provides that same veteran leadership to the best collection of young defense in the NHL. More than that, he came from St. Louis, and the Blues will miss him. A thorn in the Predators side since his debut in 2001-02, Jackman served as alternate captain the last nine seasons. He brings added physicality to complement the speed on defense and he is durable, missing only eight games the past four seasons.
Hodgson is only 25 with potential, and Nashville got him in a bargain one-year deal. Hodgson scored 20 goals for Buffalo in 2013-14, and can be a quality complimentary player. Reinhart is 23, and full of speed. He is a developmental-style talent with much upside. Recognizing talent, getting bargains, and realizing the core of your team are three qualities Poile has always exhibited and early returns are good for his work thus far in this offseason.
There is so much reason for excitement, especially given the financial structure. Chicago and St. Louis must cut to get under the cap, Minnesota and Winnipeg are at their limits, Dallas has gone the trade route in hopes of a return to the playoffs, and Colorado seems capable of doing little. Nashville looks to be the team best positioned going into next season, not only in the Central Division, but in the Western Conference as well.