Dinner with the birthday girl would have to wait.
Rocco Grimaldi had three hours to kill before he could leave Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, when the Predators gathered not for Game 7 of their first-round series with the Stars, but rather exit interviews on the first day of a premature summer vacation.
Tongue in cheek, Grimaldi mused of knowing his place in the pecking order for a mandatory individual meeting before dining with his bride.
After all, he’s a 5-foot-6 forward who didn’t make the team out of training camp to start the season and played mostly as a fourth-liner making the league minimum $650,000 —prorated, of course, in relation to the time he spent in the American Hockey League.
He ended the season on the Predators’ top line, the unlikeliest of leading scorers with three goals.
He’ll be back
A shiny new, much more valuable, likely much longer-term contract awaits Grimaldi this summer. The restricted free agent made it clear he wants to stay with Nashville.
The reasons are pretty simple: The Predators gave Grimaldi a chance to be a regular.
Grimaldi grasped that opportunity by posting career-highs in goals (five), assists (eight) and games (53). Not eye-popping numbers, but dig deeper into his game and you find a player who is slippery, quick, relentless and doesn’t make many mistakes.
General manger David Poile feels the same. He urged Grimaldi a few months ago to look for a place to live in Nashville, a preamble to an inevitable offer.
“He was one of our best, if not our best, forwards in the playoffs,” Poile said. “We have every intention to re-sign him.”
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What made Grimaldi’s postseason even more remarkable was not his quick return from a broken rib and a strained oblique — which he dubbed “a miracle” — which resigned him to a healthy scratch for Game 1.
“That was the most frustrating part,” he said. “I was starting to find my stride, that happens and that sets you back. I was worried about my spot (in the lineup), of course.
“Having that concern was definitely something mentally that was draining and frustrating.”
Concern returned a few games later, when, Grimaldi told the Tennessean, he sprained his ankle and wasn’t sure he’d be able to play in Games 5 or 6.
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Sign of the times
As for his contract, the man who names his sticks isn’t too worried sticking with a team. For once.
“There’s never, ‘I made it or I deserve this or that,'” he said. “For me, it’s a new year. There’s a lot of guys who have a great year, and the next year they don’t have so great of a year because they rest on their laurels or they rest on their contract or winning. That’s never the person I want to be. I don’t want winning a Stanley Cup to change who I am, or signing a nice contract to change who I am.
“That’s not the type of person my parents raised me to be.”
Grimaldi called the season a “dream come true.”
Waking up too early from that dream left his appetite unfulfilled.
“I feel fresh right now,” he said. “That’s when you know it wasn’t long enough. I want to start training right now.”
A puzzling season left the Predators with many questions.
Grimaldi was not among them, though.
Still, he’d rather have celebrated his wife’s birthday on the ice for Game 7.
Reach Paul Skrbina at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PaulSkrbina.
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