Predators GM challenges Johansen, negotiates with Forsberg

The San Jose Sharks have advanced to their first Western Conference final in five years with a 5-0 thumping of the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.

The Nashville Predators squeezed into the playoffs as wild card, upset the pre-season Stanley Cup favourite Anaheim Ducks in Round 1, and pushed the sudden powerhouse San Jose Sharks to seven games in Round 2.

Long regarded as a defence-only club, they dressed one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the NHL — six players with at least 50 points, 10 with at least 30.

Yet general manager David Poile wants more out of his forward core. The GM candidly laid out his summer plans Wednesday during a press conference the club streamed live on Facebook. We learned which players Poile wants to keep, which ones will be let go, and which ones need to step their game up.

Namely, top centres Mike Ribeiro and Ryan Johansen.

The veteran Ribeiro — a Poile reclamation project who has one season remaining on his deal — found great spurts of success playing setup man in the top six (seven goals and a team-high 47 assists) but inconsistency led to a pair of healthy scratches in the playoffs.

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

Mid-season acquisition Johansen, the 23-year-old poised to be the Preds’ stud No. 1 centre for the next decade, was subject to that type of bluntness from his boss, too. Remember, Johansen’s conditioning was called out by former coach John Tortorella in Columbus.

“Ryan Johansen was a great addition to our hockey club, but I think there’s more from Ryan I could get, and he knows that,” Poile said. “This is a big off-season for Ryan, conditioning-wise, to reach his potential as a hockey player.”

Johnasen told reporters he’s committed to improving this summer.

“I thought it was a club that could go all the way. For next year, that standard is going to be even higher,” he said after Round 2. “It’s going to be important to have a good summer and stay healthy, be ready to go and just get off to a good start.”

Colin Wilson (signed through 2018-19) led Nashville in playoff scoring with 13 points but was virtually invisible for the first 82 games. His 24 points was not worthy of his $4 million salary.

“Willie had an off season, a terrible season, and got it back together in the playoffs,” Poile said. “He’s become known as Playoff Willie. Hopefully he becomes Well-Rounded Willie. I’ve had a conversation with him, and I feel confident he’s going to come back and play at a high level.”

As for the Predators’ unrestricted free agents, Poile wants to keep the physical Cody Bass and has opened preliminary talks with the agent for Carter Hutton, Nashville’s solid No. 2 goaltender who will certainly fetch interest on the open market. Nashville wants to keep Hutton but will likely turn to AHL depth if that’s not possible. Depth centre Paul Gaustad, 34, was described as “a heart-and-soul type of guy” but will not be re-signed.

Winger Eric Nystrom, 33, is still signed through 2016-17 at $3 million, but Poile will try to trade him. Nystrom won’t be back.

Contract negotiations will start “right away” with restricted free agent Calle Jarnkrok, and Poile spoke with RFA Petter Granberg‘s agent Tuesday.

Of course, Poile’s No. 1 off-season priority — besides counting Johansen’s crunches — is re-signing top scorer Filip Forsberg, a restricted free agent.

“The goal and intention is there on both sides to get him signed,” Poile said. “We talked to his agent, so we’ve started to work on that.”

Term will be interesting here. The Florida Panthers went six years times $5.9 million for their star RFA-in-waiting, Alexsander Barkov. But Forsberg could wait to see if fellow star RFAs Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov and Johnny Gaudreau raise the bar higher.

Though rich with offensive talent, Forsberg doesn’t have the two-way game of Barkov. Guessing he settles for six years at about $5.6 million.

“I can’t tell you [today] whether it’s going to be a… bridge contract or a five- or six-year deal. I’d just be guessing,” Poile said. “Filip is happy that he’s here. His agent is happy that he’s here.”

Which is true.

“I love being here in Nashville, I love everything about this city,” Forsberg told reporters on clean-out day. “There’s no other place I want to be.

“We have a good thing going on here and the fans are the best in the league.”

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