The ice at Bridgestone Arena lay untouched a few feet away from the Nashville Predators as they packed up their gear and looked ahead to the next time they’d again gather as a unit, a time now months away.
Sadly, the frozen sheet won’t be used for a Game Seven on Monday evening, but instead must wait for blades glistening with new expectations as a fresh season begins later in the year. The 2014-15 campaign will not be the season the Stanley Cup comes to Nashville, but the Preds players who gathered at locker clean out day didn’t say 2015-16 wouldn’t be.
“Playing against Chicago, if we would've beaten them, we could’ve probably beaten any team,” forward Filip Forsberg said. “Every guy on our team will remember that and keep that in the back of their head during the summer when working out, just the feeling when you lose. We don’t want to do that again; we want to take the next step next year.”
Staying with the Predators:
Three Predators veteran forwards are all set to be unrestricted free agents come July 1, and the trio were asked about their intentions headed into the upcoming offseason.
Recently completing his first season in Nashville, Mike Ribeiro was quick to remark that he’d enjoy skating in Predators Gold again for the next campaign.
“I would love to be back here next season,” Ribeiro said. “I was actually happy to come to work and was not depressed [this season]. I think the boys in the room really helped a lot, they were really supportive. To get a chance like [Predators General Manager] David [Poile] gave me, I think I took it, I didn’t want to disappoint him...I just wanted to do the right thing, and I think having a good season was just a part of it.”
Center Mike Fisher, now 34, said it’s his hope to be back for his sixth season in the Music City this fall.
“I love the city and being here and being a part of this group,” Fisher said. “It’s something that will have to be worked out here in the next little bit, but I’m pretty confident that something will get done and that I will be back.
“This group is still young and is only going to get better, and that really excites me for what the future can hold here. It’s only going to get better.”
Finally, Matt Cullen was a bit more reserved when forecasting his future, not just in Nashville, but in the game itself. At 38 years old, the Virginia, Minnesota, native became the oldest Preds player in franchise history this season and moved into the Top 100 games played in the NHL when he skated in his 1,206th contest on March 15 in Anaheim.
“I’ll take a little while, [I’m going to] take a little time and sit back,” Cullen said of deciding on his future. “Everything happens fast at the end, and I’m disappointed with how it all ended, but I’ll sit back, take some time, be with the family and let the body settle down...I felt great down the stretch and in the playoffs. I’ve been lucky that way, and I was really able to enjoy it.”
All told, the Predators will have six unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents this summer. For more info on the team’s player contract status, check out the contract tracker.
While the NHL season in Nashville has come to a close, a number of Preds will continue playing over the next couple of weeks, this time in the 2015 IIHF World Championships, held in the Czech Republic.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne (Finland), defenseman Seth Jones (United States) and forward Kevin Fiala along with defenseman Roman Josi (Switzerland) will all skate for their countries in the tournament, with the potential for more Predators skaters to join teams in the coming days.
The tournament, which runs from May 1 through May 17, affords Rinne the chance to represent his country, an opportunity he always appreciates.
“I was planning on playing way longer this year [in the NHL], and to me, I think the older you get, you never know when these opportunities are going to end,” Rinne said. “I always feel like representing my country. It’s a big honor and instead of going home and working out, you stay in shape by playing games. Last year was a great experience for me and hopefully I can repeat that.”
Rinne received tournament MVP honors in 2014, posting a 6-3 record while guiding Finland to a silver medal.
Update: Nashville General Manager David Poile said Tuesday that Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm will join the Preds representatives at the World Championships and play for Team Sweden. The Preds' player total at Worlds has now risen to six.
Playing Through Injury:
Roughly a half hour before the Preds met with the media and gathered their equipment for the summer, an additional update on the injury to Shea Weber in the playoffs was provided. The team’s captain suffered a patellar subluxation (dislocated kneecap) when he took a hit from Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad in the corner during Game Two of the team’s recent playoff series.
Weber said it was frustrating to suffer such an injury on a normal, usually uneventual hit. He also confirmed that he underwent surgery shortly after the incident. The blueliner’s recovery period is projected to be four to six weeks.
Mike Fisher, who missed the majority of Game One and then Games Two, Three and Four with a lower-body injury, unveiled that it was a groin injury that kept him out of the lineup for the majority of the Preds Western Conference Quarterfinals series.
“I had a groin injury, I’ve never had to deal with [an injury] like that before, so it was all new and frustrating,” Fisher said. “I’m glad I was at least able to come back toward the end, but obviously the worst time something like that to happen is during the playoffs.”
Update: On Tuesday, it was revealed that a high ankle sprain kept Eric Nystrom out from early March through the postseason. The forward is thought to be seven to 10 days from a full recovery.