Sure, there were questions when Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile signed center Mike Ribeiro to a one-year, $1.05 million contract this past July. But all Ribeiro did was lead the Preds in assists with 47 and become the first Nashville skater to record 60 points since the 2008-09 season.
Now the only question is what will it take to get the 35-year-old back in a Preds sweater for next season?
For Ribeiro, Nashville was a fresh start. After bettering himself on and off the ice and proving to be 100 percent committed to the team night in and night out, Ribeiro posted one of the best statistical seasons of his career, finishing with 15 goals and 62 points, just one point off the team lead.
“I felt great, and I was actually happy to come to work,” Ribeiro said on locker room clean out day for the Preds. “I think the boys in the room helped too, they were really supportive. To get a chance like the [Predators] gave me, I think I took it and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I have a lot of respect for David [Poile] and the coaching staff. I just wanted to do the right thing and to have a good season, and it’s a big step.”
The 2014-15 campaign was also a big step for the Preds, as the team finished with 104 points and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012. It’s no secret that Ribeiro played a large role in attaining that feat.
“It was exactly what the doctor ordered,” Poile said of Ribeiro. “[He brought] a dimension that I don’t think we had. [Without] Mike Ribeiro, it would’ve been hard making the playoffs because he generated so much offense…I thought he played just terrific for us.”
Nashville’s bench boss would agree with that line of thinking. Head Coach Peter Laviolette used Ribeiro as his No. 1 center throughout the season, as well as on the power play, and was more than pleased with the production from the veteran.
“He was a really good fit on the ice and in the locker room, and I enjoyed every single day with Mike,” Laviolette said. “[He’s a] terrific person and seemed to fit in really well in Nashville, just with regards to his family and where we’re at with the team. We needed him in a lot of situations. I thought he played really well throughout the entire year…he brought offense and he was 100 percent committed to our team being successful.”
A number of Ribeiro’s teammates benefited from his offensive prowess, including rookie sensation Filip Forsberg, who skated on Ribeiro’s left wing for a majority of the season. Forsberg finished just one point ahead of Ribeiro for the team lead in points with 63, while Ribeiro assisted on 10 of Forsberg’s 26 goals.
“It would be huge,” Forsberg said of the potential for the Preds to re-sign Ribeiro. “He’s had a huge part in my success and especially in the team’s success. To get him back in the lineup for next year, that would be awesome, and I really hope we can get that done.”
Wingers James Neal and Craig Smith, who each saw time with Ribeiro on the first line during the course of the season, had nothing but praise for their teammate. It was also a reunion of sorts for Ribeiro and Neal, who played in Dallas together earlier in their careers. That chemistry was evident right from the start.
“He was obviously one of our best players, but I’m just proud of him for everything he’s done and battled through both on and off the ice,” Neal said of Ribeiro. “He really turned everything around and was really good for our team, so it was fun to play with him.”
“I thought [Ribeiro] was a great teammate,” Smith said. “I loved playing with him. You can see what he does on the ice; he’s pretty magical at times, and as good as he is on the ice, he’s an even better person off the ice. I’m happy to call him a teammate.”
The hope from all parties involved is that Ribeiro will again be called a teammate in Nashville when training camp commences in September, and the man tasked with figuring up a contract is leading the charge.
“I believe [Ribeiro] and his family are very happy here in Nashville,” Poile said. “I talked to him a few times during the season, but I’m looking forward to our exit meetings, and hopefully it’s a marriage that wants to continue here in Nashville.”
When a similar question was asked of Ribeiro at season’s end, there was anything but uncertainty in his mind.
“I would love to be back.”