NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Whether Mike Ribeiro is having a rebound season or it's simply great timing by Nashville, the veteran center is making the Predators' gamble to sign him pay off in a big way.
Ribeiro anchors the top line for a team currently sitting atop the NHL's standings with 89 points. He also ranks second on the Predators with 51 points, his most since 2011-12 in his last season in Dallas. He's already topped the 47 points he had with the Coyotes last season before being bought out of a $22 million contract.
The center who turned 35 on Feb. 10 said Nashville a great fit for him right now.
''There's no doubt in my mind this year I was going to have a good season,'' Ribeiro said recently. ''A lot of people doubted and questioned, but I knew soon as I signed here that I was going to have a good season and prepared myself for it physically and mentally and show up to work. I'm really focused on the game, and ...., playing with great players helps any player in this league.''
Ribeiro's situation couldn't be much different from this time a year ago. He played 80 games in his lone year in Phoenix but scored only 16 goals and 31 assists in 80 games. It was a big drop-off for a forward who had 202 goals and 454 assists in 865 career regular-season games.
When Arizona bought out the final three years of his $22 million contract, Coyotes general manager said Ribeiro had ''real behavioral issues'' they couldn't tolerate.
Ribeiro went to work on his personal life after that season. He and his wife came to Nashville together, even paying for their own airfare, before signing with the Predators. Nashville officials did their homework, including talking to Ribeiro's wife, before signing him to a one-year, $1.05 million deal.
Coach Peter Laviolette said Ribeiro has done a nice job for the Predators who really had no expectations at the start of the season.
''We needed him to come in and be part of a team,'' Laviolette said Wednesday. ''I think everybody knew what type of player he was. Always been an offensively gifted player. The ability to create and make plays and make other players better, so that was always there. We just wanted him to come in and contribute that way.''
In Nashville, he was reunited with James Neal, a teammate for two seasons in Dallas. He also has played on a line most of the season with rookie Filip Forsberg, a top candidate for the Calder Trophy, who is tied with Neal for most goals (21).
''Ribs being a passer, you've always got to be ready to shoot the puck, and I think we've done a good job of that,'' Neal said. ''The more you play together, the more chemistry you build, and we feel comfortable with each other.''
Ribeiro also credits having the confidence and support of everyone from general manager David Poile to Laviolette and the rest of the team helping him feel comfortable and relaxed at work. After an assist in Tuesday night's 5-2 win over Colorado, he now has 39. With 21 games remaining, he could threaten the single-season mark of 54 set by Paul Kariya in 2005-06.
But he's focused on improving his defense and the rest of his game as Nashville targets a long postseason run after missing the playoffs the past two years.
''The most important thing is to win games and be able to help the team win,'' Ribeiro said. ''It feels easier to come to work when you win games and you're playing well. That makes a big difference.''