Paul Gaustad

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Preds are ‘definitely heading in the right direction’: Poile

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) General manager David Poile believes patience might be the remaining ingredient needed for the Nashville Predators to take that “next step.”

The Predators are coming off the longest playoff run in their history and Poile noted Wednesday that they have gone through a myriad of changes the past couple of seasons. They won three of four elimination games before finally losing to San Jose in Game 7 in the second round, and Poile said what Nashville needs more than anything is just a little time.

Nashville’s roster featured five rookies, and Poile made it clear he expects improvement from them along with center Ryan Johansen and a breakthrough from Colin Wilson playing during the regular season like he did during the postseason. Mix with some consistency, Poile likes what he has.

“We are definitely heading in the right direction,” Poile said.

Poile and coach Peter Laviolette summed up the season that ended May 12 with that 5-0 loss to San Jose. Poile noted the Predators were one of only two NHL teams with six players posting at least 50 points along with Florida, and their defense tied with Calgary for most points scored during the regular season thanks to Roman Josi and captain Shea Weber.

Nashville also filled its arena to 99.2 percent of capacity during the regular season and set a single-season franchise attendance record with 35 sellouts. Laviolette thanked fans for bringing an energy to the arena that he hasn’t seen in other buildings. Poile said he’s not calling Nashville a non-traditional hockey market again after what he called a “tremendous ride.”

“This is a hockey city,” Poile said.

To build on this season, the Predators face a busy offseason.

Filip Forsberg, who tied the franchise record with 33 goals, is at the top of the to-do list as a pending restricted free agent. But Forsberg said last weekend he wants to stay in Nashville. Poile said he has no deadline for a new deal and isn’t sure yet if that deal will be for a couple seasons or a longer contract up to six years.

“The goal is to get him signed,” Poile said. “The intention is there on both sides. Filip is very happy here, his agent’s happy he’s here, and we’ve just got to get to work on it.”

A new deal for forward Calle Jarnkrok, another restricted free agent, is another priority after his scoring jumped to 30 points. The Predators also have been talking with the agent for backup goalie Carter Hutton, who went 7-5-4 with a .918 save percentage. Poile said it was too early to know if Juuse Saros or Marek Mazanec currently in the AHL would be options if they don’t sign Hutton to a new deal.

Neither veteran forward Paul Gaustad nor forward Eric Nystrom, due $3 million next season, will be back.

Both Poile and Laviolette want much more from veteran Mike Ribeiro, who was scratched in Games 3 and 4 against San Jose. Laviolette noted Ribeiro, who finished with 50 points in the regular season, played a key role in helping Nashville go from a bubble team into a playoff berth. But the Predators want Ribeiro, who will turn 37 in February and is due $3.5 million next season, to improve his conditioning to be stronger in the postseason.

“Mike really needs to have the summer of his life to regain his position back on the top two lines,” Poile said.

Preds to part ways with Nystrom, Gaustad

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A pair of veteran forwards won’t be back in Nashville next season.

Center Paul Gaustad, a pending UFA, and winger Eric Nystrom — who has one year left on his deal at $2.5 million — are going to move along… or be moved along, per NHL.com’s Robby Stanley.

Gaustad, 34, has spent the last four-plus seasons in Nashville, having been acquired at the ’12 trade deadline. A serviceable-yet-unspectacular contributor, Gaustad had a solid 10-goal, 21-point effort during the ’13-14 campaign but was less of a factor this season, averaging a career-low 11:15 TOI per night.

Nystrom, 33, is a trickier proposition.

As mentioned above, he still has term left on his contract, and it’ll be interesting to see if Preds GM David Poile can orchestrate a trade. Nystrom was a press box regular during the playoffs — sitting up there for 13 of Nashville’s 14 games — though he did manage to score seven goals in just 46 regular-season appearances.

It’s very possible Nystrom could be bought out, which would free up a roster spot for prospects like Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev or Pontus Aberg.

Frustrated by disallowed winner, Sharks coach calls goalie interference rule ‘clear as mud’

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The San Jose Sharks would’ve had a 3-1 series lead, if not for the referees’s decision to disallow Joe Pavelski‘s overtime goal last night in Nashville.

Instead, the Sharks are headed back to San Jose tied, 2-2, after Mike Fisher won Game 4 for the Predators in triple OT.

Not surprisingly, what happened last night didn’t sit too well with Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer, who offered a rather sardonic opinion of the referee’s decision — a decision that was upheld upon review — to disallow Pavelski’s goal due to “incidental contact” with Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.

“I don’t understand. I guess incidental contact is you’re cross-checked from behind while you are in the air and you have the opportunity to stop. I guess that’s what it is,” DeBoer said, per Sportsnet.

“You know what? That rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year, so why should it be different tonight?”

DeBoer is not wrong that there’s been confusion. What actually constitutes goalie interference has been a hot topic since the league allowed coaches to challenge it.

For the record, here’s what would’ve been reviewed last night:

b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential “Interference on the Goalkeeper”

(ii) A play that results in a “NO GOAL” call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of “Interference on the Goalkeeper” but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player’s positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.

So, based on that, it was decided that Pavelski was not “pushed” or “shoved” into Rinne by Nashville’s Paul Gaustad. Or, at the very least, it was decided that Pavelski, after he was pushed, failed to make a “reasonable effort” to avoid contact with the goalie.

Obviously, that’s not how DeBoer saw it. He didn’t think Pavelski had a chance to avoid crashing into Rinne.

Regardless, the Sharks will need to put last night behind them and get focused on Saturday’s Game 5. It’s a best-of-three to get to the Western Conference Final now, whether they like it or not. 

Preds re-sign Sissons: three years, $1.87M

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On Monday, Nashville locked up 22-year-old center Colton Sissons for the foreseeable future, inking him to a three-year, $1.875 million extension, one that carries a $625,000 annual cap hit.

Sissions, the 50th overall pick in 2012, turned pro in ’13-14 and has spent the last three seasons between Nashville and the club’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.

With the Admirals, he’s had a fair bit of success, making an AHL All-Star team while serving as the youngest captain in Admirals history this season, scoring 16 points in 33 games.

Success at the NHL level has been more elusive, however.

Sissons — who was set to become a restricted free agent this summer — has only appeared in 19 games this year, scoring a goal and an assist. While he has shown some promise — as the Preds noted in their release, he has “a 59 percent success rate in the face-off circle, best among all NHLers taking at least 100 draws” — Sissons has yet to become a lineup regular.

Part of that, of course, is due to Nashville boasting the likes of Ryan Johansen, Mike Fisher, Mike Ribeiro, Calle Jarnkrok and Paul Gaustad down the middle.

Sissions’ deal was clearly made with an eye for the future. It’s a one-way deal for the final two years of the contract — which aligns itself with the fact that Gaustard is a pending UFA, while Ribeiro and Fisher are UFAs in 2018.

Ekholm scores in OT, Predators beat Hurricanes 2-1

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Mattias Ekholm scored with 1:51 left in overtime to lift the Nashville Predators over the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 on Saturday night.

Paul Gaustad tied the game for Nashville with a short-handed goal in the second period. Ekholm assisted and Gaustad got his first goal of the season.

Victor Rask put Carolina ahead 8:58 into the first with his 11th goal.

Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had 27 saves and Carolina’s Eddie Lack stopped 19.

In overtime, Ekholm corralled a deflected pass from Filip Forsberg, skated in on Lack and beat the goalie top shelf.

Nashville captain and defenseman Shea Weber played in his 724th game for the franchise, passing Martin Erat for second on the club’s career list. David Legwand played in 956 games.

Carolina’s Phil Di Giuseppe left with an upper-body injury in the second period and did not return. He assisted on Rask’s first-period goal.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette coached the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, while his assistant Kevin McCarthy was an assistant with the Hurricanes from 1999-2009. The only remaining Carolina players from the 2006 team are captain Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward.

Jeff Skinner assisted on Rask’s goal for his 21st point this season.

NOTES: The Predators had won the teams’ only other meeting of the season 2-1 in Nashville on Oct. 8. … Carolina visits Edmonton on Monday night in the first of a two-game Western Canada trip. … Nashville hosts Winnipeg on Tuesday night before heading on a four-game road trip. … Carolina C Jay McClement missed the game with an illness after playing in 198 consecutive contests. D Michal Jordan was a healthy scratch for the Hurricanes. … The Predators’ healthy scratches were LW Austin Watson and D Anthony Bitetto and D Petter Granberg.