The biggest story on the opening day of NHL free agency was the decision of Senators captain Daniel Aldredsson to jilt the organization with which he had played his first 17 seasons.
After he signed with the Red Wings, Alfredsson said he did so because he thought Detroit provided him with the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
Alfredsson’s message, apparently, was no less strident in private recently when he played a round of golf with one of the newest Predators, Viktor Stalberg, a fellow Swede who, in his fourth NHL season, had just come off winning the Cup as a member of the Blackhawks.
“It’s so hard to grasp that you won it,” Stalberg said from Sweden in a conference call with media members. “It’s just one of those things guys work so long in their career for and some guys never get the opportunity. I feel very fortunate to be part of a good team at the right time when we won it. It was a great ride, just seeing what the Cup did for Chicago and the support we had there was just remarkable. I was out golfing a couple of days ago with Daniel Alfredsson and he kind of just kept telling me how amazing it was and to cherish the moment.
“He’s been in the league 19 years, I think, and been one of the best players the whole time and he said he was once in the final but never really came close to winning it so talking to him just kind of gave me a perspective on things.”
Even though he achieved the NHL’s ultimate team goal by the age of 27, Stalberg nonetheless felt stunted in his personal growth as a hockey player.
Stuck on the Blackhawks’ depth chart behind two of the best right wings in the game in Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane, Stalberg, also a right wing, received limited ice time, about 14 minutes per game, and didn’t play as much as he would have liked on the power play. He averaged 2:11 per game on special teams last season in the regular season, sixth among the team’s forwards. The year before –- when he scored 22 goals –- he averaged a mere 27 seconds per game with the man advantage.
During the playoffs, he played only a total of 1:34 on the power play in 19 games, an average of four seconds per game, as wing Bryan Bickell, who finished tied for second on the team in playoff goals, took his spot on the unit. This reportedly led to a falling out between coach Joel Quenneville and Stalberg -– he was a healthy scratch several times during the playoffs –- but on Monday Stalberg said he had made his decision to move on before the postseason. He was asked if he thought he was given the chance to blossom into a top-six forward in Chicago.
“Yes and no, I guess,” he said. “I don’t think they gave me the opportunity really to be comfortable there, especially the last two years. Looking back at two seasons ago, scoring 22 goals and still not playing top six, any power play time, I don’t think that is being given an opportunity.
“But at the same time, I don’t think you can be mad at that. Looking at that lineup, that’s just the way it is. It’s probably over the last couple of years the best team in hockey, if you look at that roster. At the same time, you want to be on a good team, winning and all that. It might not (have been) the opportunity for me to reach my potential. I guess the answer is a little bit of both.”
Last season Nashville was the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. While part of the blame for that belongs to a number of players who underperformed, the signing of Stalberg also acknowledged the need for more high-end skill. The Predators have not had a player score 30 goals since Patric Hornqvist did it in 2009-10. In the organization’s history, only four players have ever reached that plateau and the Predators have never had a 40-goal scorer.
Stalberg said he thinks he can become that 30-goal player.
“I’d like to think so,” he said. “Obviously, you’ve got to get a chance to play those minutes to see what you can turn your career into. Just looking at the past two years, I think I played around 14 minutes. I was maybe half the year in the top six in Chicago and scored 22 goals (in 2011-12) and none of them on the power play. Certainly, I think the potential is there. I’m going to have a chance to play with some pretty talented offensive players in Nashville so I’m looking forward to the chance and hoping I can bring that offense to the team.”
In terms of talented players, Nashville had the top power play in the league in 2011-12, although defenseman Ryan Suter, is gone. Two of the most important players from that unit, defenseman Shea Weber and Hornqvist, return. Stalberg most likely will be another. Defenseman Roman Josi and a center –- maybe the newly acquired Matt Cullen –- could fill out the first unit. With Hornqvist customarily stationed in front of the net, Stalberg most likely will play at the right circle. He said he thinks his strength will be creating from there and taking pucks to the net.
At even strength, the Predators are excited about Stalberg’s speed and he likes what their system will do for him.
“They play an up-tempo game,” he said. “I think that fits really well with my game, I have good speed. They really come at you, make it hard for you to break out of your zone or that kind of stuff. That’s something I’m really looking to use with my speed, create turnovers. I think there will be freedom to use your speed.”
With the signing of Stalberg and the expected additions of rookie forward Filip Forsberg and defenseman Mattias Ekholm added to Hornqvist’s presence, the Predators are beginning to take on a decidedly more Swedish flavor. That’s not to mention potential minor-league call-ups such as Daniel Bang, who spent some time in Nashville last season. Stalberg has played with Hornqvist at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships and also played with him at a tournament in Russia during last season’s lockout. The duo are also potential teammates for Sweden at the 2014 Olympics in Socchi, Russia.
Stalberg said he had grown accustomed to playing with a group of Swedes in Chicago, including Marcus Kruger, Nicklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya.
“We played a couple of games together and he’s a great guy so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Stalberg said of Hornqvist. “It’ll be fun.”
Most of all, he is hopeful that he can enjoy the same kind of team success in Nashville as he achieved in Chicago. He spoke about what the experience of winning the Cup will help him bring to the Predators.
“Those guys, they never doubted themselves,” he said of the Blackhawks. “They really expected to win every game. I think that’s something you bring to Nashville. Expecting to win all the time is something I’m going to try bring there. Just being around the Cup and seeing what it does to people and how exciting it is, hopefully, I can get a chance to experience that in Nashville as well.”