The Nashville Predators find themselves in a little bit of a predicament regarding pending unrestricted free agent, Mike Ribeiro.
Playing on a supremely discounted contract - thanks to his messy buyout from the Arizona Coyotes - the center scored 62 points for the team in 2014-2015 (2nd) and was a major driving force for the team's return to the playoffs. In a year where needed to produce and contribute to prove he still belonged in the league, Ribeiro did that in spades.
Now he's ready to talk figures and length, with priority being given to the Nashville team that gave him his second chance. He's certainly going to get paid, but what exactly is the right term?
As of this moment, Ribeiro would be starting next season as the first-line center, tasked with having most of the offense go through him. That's a lot to ask for a 35-year-old who has spent most of his career as a second-line center. Ribeiro and his camp know this, and they want to be compensated fairly for it, both in years and dollars as Adam Vingan reports:
"Our focus would be to be proactive with Nashville, for mike [sic] to stay in Nashville," Meehan said. "But that would all be conditional upon how Nashville reacts to that. If we have something that's fair, then we'll engage. If we don't, then we have no choice but to go to free agency, but that's not our priority. It's not our first choice."
As for what Meehan would consider an appropriate offer, it begins with a multiyear term.
"One year would be unacceptable," Meehan said. "We would want something longer than one year. We've indicated that to (Poile)."
Look, at his age, this is Ribeiro's last chance at a contract with term and financial security. No one can blame him for wanting that. "Unacceptable" is also his agent doing his job to set his client up for the best deal possible. It certainly seems they are prioritizing contract length over dollars, since he blew the security with his last one. The problem facing Nashville is with that kind of length to an aging player.
An NHLer reaches peak scoring ability around the age of 24 or 25, and starts to dramatically decrease as they pass the age of 30. Though the actual rate of their decline varies from player to player, it's still very noticeable, as Eric T. detailed last year:
In addition, we now have an estimate of how even strength scoring ability changes through a player's 30's. On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp -- they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.
Now, Ribeiro has always been an above average play, so his decline may not be as pronounced as some others. (On top of the variance mentioned before.) But no one escapes the ravages of time. Courtesy of Hockey Analysis, here is a visualized representation of Ribeiro's production over the last eight seasons.
This past year bucked a trend of steady decline, despite consistent shot and shot attempt totals. His season (2.189 5v5 P/60) was nearly on par with his 2011-2012 season with the Dallas Stars, when he recorded 63 points and 2.257 5v5 P/60. That was three years ago, though. Could Ribeiro conceivably score another 60 points next year? If he plays along side Filip Forsberg and James Neal/Craig Smith again, it's possible, but it's more likely it dips just a bit. A year after that and a year after that, though? That's where things start to get hazy.
In that time (and since 2002-2003) Ribeiro has averaged 2.09 points per 60 5v5 minutes. Using Eric T.'s method of decline as a worst-case scenario, if Ribeiro's only retaining 60% of that average going forward, we would be looking at about 1.25 5v5 P/60. (1.31 if we use his average this season.)
But that assumes a lot and may not exactly be fair, so let's take a look at how some comparable players performed as they aged. According to Hockey Reference, a comparable player in terms of production is Daniel Briere. Using graphs from Quant Hockey, let's overlay their total points per game against each other.
In their aged 34-35 season, both were at an almost identical PPG rate: Briere at 0.700 and Ribeiro at 0.756. Briere's production then started rolling steadily down the hill. That's just one player, which doesn't mean a whole lot. So how about another comparable in Shane Doan?
These two charts are as close to identical as you're going to find, and this may be closer to what to expect from Ribeiro. After the age of 34, Doan's production didn't fall off a cliff but, as you'd expect, it did start dropping. Yet he still put up half a point per game or more, and was a pretty leaned on part of those Coyotes teams. If that's a similar trajectory Ribeiro would follow, a couple more years are certainly worth it. Even more so if Ribeiro's role decreases. *Coughcoughtradefora1Ccoughcough* Longer than that gets dangerous.
One more for poops and laughs. Here's Ribeiro's former teammate, Olli Jokinen:
It's not perfect, but it is interesting to note the drop off in production after a bounce-back season. None of this is to say Ribeiro will be awful next year or the year after that, but it should prove caution that he will be slowing down. It's just a question of by how much?
Poile is in a very unenvious position. His team is better with Ribeiro, at least in the short term, and letting him walk could realistically set the Predators back. However, throwing out a long and expensive 35+ contract is not ideal, especially with an aging player expected play to be a major part in carrying the team.
The ideal contract length for Ribeiro is two years. Long enough to expect a couple more 40-50 point seasons, but short enough that if it doesn't pan out, Nashville isn't stuck with an expensive piece they can't get rid of. (Or they get out just before his major decline.) He's repeatedly said how much the city is a fit for his family, and Poile did give him another chance when seemingly no one else would. Two years would a compromise, and leaves the option to re-sign if those seasons are success.
But Ribeiro and his camp are likely looking for three to four years, to avoid having to do this dance again. It could be argued that by gambling on a third year, Poile could be willing to risk whatever happens that extra one if it kept his team intact. He should think long and hard on that scenario though.
Nashville needs Ribeiro next year, and potentially the year after that; re-signing him should be a top priority. Maybe they offer more money for fewer years. Still, if he isn't willing to negotiate term to stay, Poile's better off letting another GM sign him to a long and expensive contract. (If there's even one that will.) As much as it may hurt now, they'll save themselves some potential problems down the line.