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Ribeiro, Roy, and piecing together the player puzzle

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Taking a look at all the new toys the Predators have to work with, and what it means going forward.

From left: Jennifer Stewart, Kevin Hoffman and Anne-Marie Sorvin
From left: Jennifer Stewart, Kevin Hoffman and Anne-Marie Sorvin

Let's recap:

July 1st comes and goes, with nary a David Poile signing in sight. The Predators' Internet fan base collectively loses their minds, condemning the team to another lifetime filled with mediocrity and naked rafters. Another 24 hours passes with the only move being a short grab for this guy. People are too busy making waffle jokes to fully comprehend the redundancy of the signing.

Fast forward five days, and the Predators announce signing veteran defenseman Anton Volchenkov, then casually try to inform everyone Mike Fisher's heel went full on Independence Day. That went over well. Now, the fan base is in a panic, #VinnyWatch2014 is operating at full power, Hobby Lobby jokes are everywhere, and somewhere James Neal is driving his knee into the head of a dummy with Jim Rutherford's picture on it.

Enter Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy. A pair of centers signed within minutes of each other that, while not exactly impressive on their own, somehow make the team look competitive. As we've discussed, neither player would have been a bad option on their own, though neither could have carried the team. Together, they give Nashville added depth and Peter Laviolette plenty of options to work with throughout his roster.

The Newcomers

Ribeiro is a curious case, but not in the way you think. At the age of 34, his best years are behind him. His last two seasons have been his worst in recent memory, and his possession numbers have been sinking for years. It's one of the reasons the guys at Russian Machine Never Breaks didn't shed a tear when the Capitals opted not re-sign him. Too much money for a declining player.

The interesting thing though, is that last year in Arizona his possession numbers spiked. And not just by a teensy bit, but by a lot. Ribeiro jumped from a 45.3% CF in 2013 to a 52.9% last season. Part of that probably had to do with Washington's terrible 5v5 numbers in 2013, (compared to Arizona's completely average ones last year) as well as much more favorable zone starts with the Coyotes.

Yet, Ribeiro wasn't just a passenger, he was actually driving possession. Sometimes to large degrees, like with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. (Though OEL did have the toughest competition of any Coyote.) Almost every player played better with Ribeiro on the ice. That's a huge contrast to his time in Washington, where he actually made every player worse. Now, one year does not a trend make, and there's no guarantee that carries over to the Predators. His point production is still declining, but hopefully in the right setting with a clear head that production can level out. Also, since Ribeiro previously dragged down the world's best goal scorer somehow, we'll have to keep an eye out on how he gels with Neal. Yes, they played together in Dallas, but for less than 400 minutes over those years.)

Almost every player played better with Ribeiro on the ice. That's a huge contrast to his time in Washington, where he actually made every player worse.

Roy, on the other hand, has been producing at a pretty consistent levels over the last three years. If Craig Smith is going to be his main trigger man, (and Smith keeps up his scoring touch) then another 25 assist, 35 point season could be a real possibility. Given that's about the output to expect from Matt Cullen, the price is right, as they say. The team won't be living or dying on Roy's production, but adding 30-40 points for a million bucks is hard to argue with.

One of the best parts of the signings, though? It allows Olli Jokinen to settle into the third line, where he should be much more effective. The organization was (probably) never going to let him start the season at the 1C, but all of us were getting real nervous that would be the case. If the situation calls for it, he could absolutely slot into the top-six for a time, but at this stage of his career he's better off out of it.

The Puzzle

The roster is as close to revamped as you can get without blowing the whole thing up. Though you could argue the makeover has been several small combustions rather than one large explosion. Even without factoring the rookies into the equation, the differences from the start of last season to the probable start of this season are stark:

2013 2014
LW C RW LW C RW
Wilson Legwand Hornqvist Neal Ribeiro Wilson
Smith Cullen Bourque Stalberg Roy Smith
Nystrom Fisher Spaling Bourque Cullen Jokinen
Clune Gaustad Hendricks Clune Gaustad Nystrom

Should any of Calle Jarnkrok, Filip Forsberg or Colton Sissons play themselves onto the team during training camp, the change is even more startling. Poile already thinks Jarnkrok has a chance, and it will be up to the other two to show management they don't need any more time in the minors. (Though I'd argue it never hurt anyone to be down there too long.)

Basically, the team has upgraded from Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand, Viktor Stalberg can play with players that actually make sense, Wilson and Smith can swap first line duties depending on how much they want to spread around scoring, the third line will be a constantly moving, living entity, and on and on and on.

The point is the club has plenty of pieces to fit into the puzzle, especially if the kids come to play. Too many, in fact. Rich Clune, Eric Nystrom and Gabriel Bourque could all see themselves as the odd man out at some point. Even Cullen could be squeezed farther down the depth chart should Forsberg and Jarnkrok be on the roster at the same time. We won't even get into what happens when/if Fisher comes back.

It isn't a bad problem to have. The roster isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's certainly better than when the summer started. Don't forget about the underrated signing of Volchenkov, who will help an already strong, but extremely young defense. A good possession player, he'll be able to anchor the second pair to allow Seth Jones to do Seth Jones things. If Ryan Ellis doesn't get traded, just think how many teams are going to be jealous that he's on the third pair. (Hi, Colorado!)

Is all this enough to hang around the Central division? The cop out answer is we won't know until the season plays itself out. However, the Jets, Stars and Avalanche all have some glaring hole that could spell trouble for them. If Pekka Rinne plays his normal workload, and the gambles Poile made pay off, and HCPL comes as advertised, there's no reason to think the Predators can challenge to make the postseason for the first time in three years.