FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2013 file photo, Chicago Blackhawks' Viktor Stalberg, of Sweden, handles the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis. Less than two weeks after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, Stalberg is ready to boost a Nashville Predators team that finished 14th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
Viktor Stalberg believes the Nashville Predators have many of the elements in place to start winning again.
Their chances of bouncing back from a disappointing season could depend on whether the 27-year-old forward can help solve his new team's scoring problems.
Less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, Stalberg signed a four-year, $12 million contract to join Nashville as part of the Predators' uncharacteristic free-agent spending spree. The Predators are counting on Stalberg to boost an offence that scored just 2.27 goals per game this past season to match the Florida Panthers for the lowest average in the NHL.
"Just from playing against them the last couple of years, I know they're very well-built and well-coached," Stalberg said Monday during a conference call with Nashville media. "Hopefully, I can add some offence to that team as well."
As the free-agent period opened Friday, the Predators signed five players to contracts totalling over $36 million. Stalberg joined forwards Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom and goaltender Carter Hutton in signing with Nashville.
Stalberg is moving from the Stanley Cup champions to a Nashville team that finished last in the Central Division and 14th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference with a 16-23-9 record. The switch should allow Stalberg to have more of a chance to show what he can do.
"I wanted to come to a team where I could have a bigger opportunity and play a little bit more," Stalberg said. "As you guys know, in Chicago we had superstars. ... It's tough to get the opportunity ahead of those guys, and they're going to get the big minutes. I had a couple of good years there, but I think I can keep improving. I don't think I've reached my potential."
Stalberg had 22 goals and 21 assists in 2011-12 for the Blackhawks. Stalberg followed that up with nine goals and 14 assists in 47 games this past season, but he struggled to earn playing time during the Blackhawks' playoff run. The presence of star forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa made it difficult for Stalberg to break through.
"They had a lot of high-end forwards, so he never got a lot of opportunities in those situations," Predators coach Barry Trotz said Friday when Nashville announced all the new signings. "He ended up being on the third line, some fourth line, which is probably not his role. You don't get the same opportunities."
Asked whether he got a fair shot at becoming a top-six forward in Chicago, Stalberg replied, "Yes and no."
"Certainly you can't be mad at that, either," Stalberg said. "Look at that lineup. That's just the way it is. It's probably the last couple of years the best team in hockey if you look at the roster. At the same time that you want to be on a good team - winning and all that - it might not be the opportunity to reach my potential."
He should have that opportunity in Nashville, which traditionally has been known for its defence.
The Predators have one of the league's top goaltenders in Pekka Rinne and an elite defenceman in captain Shea Weber. They improved their defence even more by selecting highly touted Seth Jones with the fourth overall pick in the draft.
"Looking at that, I think what they were missing was offensive players, but that's certainly what they went out and looked for in free agency," Stalberg said. "That's why I decided to go there. I think they've got a good thing going. Obviously getting back to the playoffs is the big thing next year."