It will be difficult for those inside Bridgestone Arena on select nights this winter to decide whether to boo Jordin Tootoo or to chant his name. Just as challenging will be discerning between the two.
Eight seasons of fierce competitiveness (not to mention personal triumph) and one decision Sunday were more than enough motivation to do either.
Tootoo’s time with the Nashville Predators ended when he signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings on the opening day of the new free agent signing period. The contract was worth $5.7 million (an average of $1.9 million per season) and landed the 29-year-old long-time fan favorite in the uniform of one of the Predators’ fiercest rivals.
“We play the game to win and obviously you don’t get the opportunity to play in the best league that often, and for me what a great honor it is to have a team like Detroit have interest in me,” Tootoo said, according to the Red Wings website. “I know a lot about them, we’ve had a great rivalry against them, so I’m excited to be a Red Wing, but at the same time, what has gone on in the past has to go and this is a new chapter in my life.”
In addition to the fact that they play in the same division, Nashville and Detroit have met in the playoffs three times. The last was this past season when the Predators won the first-round series in just five games.
The teams are scheduled to open the 2012-13 season against one another Oct. 12 at Detroit. The Red Wings’ next scheduled visit to Nashville is Dec. 15.
“Obviously we’ve played against him,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He’s hard, he’s physical, and we think he can help the bottom six by providing some energy and physicality along with Darren Helm. We’re trying to get some more edge with the bottom six and he’ll do that.”
Tootoo became the first player of Inuit descent ever drafted into the NHL when the Predators used a fourth-round selection (98th overall) to get him in 2001 and, two years later, the first to play in the NHL.
Up until now he has spent his entire career, 486 NHL games, with Nashville. He is the franchise’s all-time leader with 725 penalty minutes. He set career-highs with 24 assists and 30 points in 2011-12, his first full season after having voluntarily sought treatment through the league’s substance abuse program in December 2010.
His value, however, was not in the points he produced (46 goals, 79 assists for his career). It was his ability and willingness — at 5-foot-9 — to deliver thunderous hits and to fight when necessary that unfailingly irritated opposing players and energized the Predators and their fans.
“First and foremost I want to say thanks to [Nashville GM] David Poile for giving me every opportunity to play in the best league,” Tootoo said. “I’ve been there for nine years and it’s been a tremendous experience and they’ve treated me with the upmost respect.
“But the bottom line is that I was at a point in my life where I made a lot of changes and I felt that this was a change to be had for me to kind of move on to a new location. I mean, the fans down there, that’s all I know, so it’s going to be a little different feeling, a little mixed emotions, but I had to do what was best for me and go where I thought would give me the best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.”
• Defenseman Francis Bouillon continued the back-and-forth journey that has been his NHL career when he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
The undersized defenseman has switched teams four times in an NHL career that began in 1999-00 but has kept his travels to two teams.
The 36-year-old spent all or parts of his first three seasons with the Canadiens. The Predators claimed him off waivers in December 2002 but he appeared in just four games before they put him back on waivers and Montreal re-claimed him. He then signed as a free agent with Nashville prior to 2009-10 and remained with the franchise for the past three seasons.
In his two stints with Nashville, the 5-foot-8 Bouillon played 195 games and had nine goals with 26 assists. He tied his career-high with five goals last season and had a career-best plus-5 rating in 2009-10.
A concussion caused him to miss nearly all of the second half of the 2009-10 season as well as the start of 2011-12.