In my last blog, I detailed the tough job that this offseason will be for David Poile. In order to understand my thought process, as wacked as one might think it is, please read that entry if nothing more than to confirm your suspicions.
In this missive, I’m going to pretend I’m David Poile and outline scenarios, with specific players, designed to improve the team for next season as well as beyond.
Before I go and build next year’s Nashville Predators, I will share the guiding principles I will use throughout my efforts: (1) maintain the principle of building from the goaltender out, (2) do not sacrifice the core youth for veterans, and (3) provide tools to better the power play. Two additional guiding principles that I’m going to utilize are to favor top-end potential over scoring depth as well as to restrict top-six level salaries for top-six forwards (in terms of their role on the team).
Nothing so onerous or outlandish yet (don’t worry, I’ll get there).
Next, I go to Ed Lang and the owners and do my utter best to convince them that the budget should be raised to $48 million- just under the cap midpoint. My argument would be that it’s only $2 million and that you could pretty easily take it back down to $45 million in two years if they team doesn’t break even over the next two years (netted).
That might be a little risky, but I think it’s crucial for the long-term health of the franchise. In and of itself, it also doesn’t take the franchise anywhere close to $20 million in losses to trigger any clauses with the city. For the first draft of this scenario, I will work with a budget of $48 million.
Remember that we start with 18 players under contract, totaling roughly $42.7 million. I’m going to build an improved roster on a $48 million budget. Throughout this exercise, I will utilize capgeek.com and their great salary cap charts and fantasy calculators. I can’t recommend their site enough. Let’s start the insanity fun.
Internally, Identify the Top-Six Forwards
These forwards must be the best paid, ELC’s notwithstanding. They must be played in roles to maximize their offensive potential as the team’s shift away from depth-based scoring (due to financial reasons) necessitates that fact.
I would identify David Legwand, Martin Erat, Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, and one of Steve Sullivan, Jason Arnott, and J.P. Dumont. Given the choice, I would choose Sullivan. The other two join the pool of tradable assets that will be used to bring in the sixth player (directly or indirectly).
Why those five? Legwand and Erat are paid like top six forwards, were drafted by Nashville and have longer contracts than the others. Wilson is paid $1.725 million. Nashville can’t afford too many players making that on the third line and he’s the best option, long term, to play top six minutes as opposed to Joel Ward and Jordin Tootoo. Hornqvist is a given coming off a 30 goal season with less than top six minutes and is a natural for moving into a more permanent top six role.
From Sullivan, Dumont, and Arnott, I choose Sullivan for two reasons: (1) he’s a cheaper option with an expiring contract, and (2) I believe his ability to be both an effective scorer and playmaker trumps either Arnott’s scoring or Dumont’s playmaking ability.
Re-sign Patric Hornqvist: 3 years, $2.25 million cap hit
Since I’ve included him above, this obviously must occur. Probably the lone bright spot on the power play, it’s crucial he’s brought back. With this salary, he gets top-six minutes and plays a role that will maximize his offensive abilities.
Re-sign Shea Weber: 12 years, $5.5 million cap hit
Following our guiding principle of building from the goaltender out, and being proactive in signing our elite defenseman with the more unique skill set, I sign Shea Weber to a long term contract extension modeled after Duncan Keith’s contract (which also stresses the importance of re-signing Weber this offseason to maximize the effect of that comparable contract).
Additionally, it shows the league that Nashville has no intention of letting their All-Olympian defenseman leave town and is committed to improving the team- even with a limited budget.
Re-sign Francis Bouillon: 3 years, $1.5 million cap hit
Continuing our principle of building from the goaltender out, I re-sign the steady and physical Bouillon to a reasonable $1.5 million for the next three years. With the re-signing of Bouillon, Nashville returns at least four from the last season’s blueline. For Nashville, and their style of play, the more stability among that group the better.
Expect Jonathon Blum to fill 6th Defenseman Spot
Blum’s NHL salary will be $941,666 over the next two seasons. As much as I like Cody Franson, and feel that he plays an important role on the Predators power play, I also feel that Franson is likely the more valuable asset for trade purposes. I also think that it is important to play Blum now in the event Nashville has to make another key decision in the 2012 offseason- coinciding with conclusion of his and Ryan Suter’s contracts.
That said, if the trade is favorable for Nashville, I would keep Franson and trade Blum without too much concern.
Identify Movable Roster Assets and Resultant Increase in Cap Space
Now, I identify assets that I want to move and the cap space that brings to the table. Some of those assets have a No Movement or No Trade Clause. While that makes moving those individuals harder, it’s not impossible and certainly not to be avoided. At the end of the day, some of these players could remain, but I make every attempt to move each of these players to further the team. I value the cleared cap space foremost, but want to maximize the return as much as possible.
Jason Arnott (NMC): 1 year left, $4.5 million cap hit
J.P. Dumont (NMC): 2 years left, $4 million cap hit
Jordin Tootoo: 2 years left, $1.25 million cap hit
Cal O’Reilly: 1 year left, $562,500 cap hit
Alexander Sulzer: 1 year left, $650,000 cap hit
If Nashville doesn’t re-sign Cody Franson or Denis Grebeshkov, their Restricted Free Agency status makes them useful trade assets as well.
If we pause to take stock, courtesy of capgeek.com, after removing those players from the roster, we are left with 16 players (10 forwards, 5 defensemen, 1 goalie), $36.421 million payroll, and a remaining budget of roughly $11.5 million (remember, we’re working on an internal budget of $48 million for this exercise).
Re-sign Dan Hamhuis or Denis Grebeshkov: 6 years, $3.75 million cap hit
Now we start spending that additional $11.5 million, and we do it by completing our blueline. With this signing, Nashville does not have to make a move on the blueline until Ryan Suter and Jonathon Blum’s contracts expire in two years. They certainly could, of course, but they don’t have to make a move. Grebeshkov likely signs for a little less, but for easiness I’m going to work with the $3.75 million number.
(Re-)Sign two bottom six forwards and a backup goaltender: Limit of $1.75 million
Here we are filling out the role players. We could re-sign Dustin Boyd for $700,000, sign another bottom six forward for $500,000 and sign a backup goaltender for $550,000. Essentially any group of players provided we limit the total to $1.75 million.
Glancing again at where we are at, courtesy of capgeek, we have signed 20 players (12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies), committed $41.9 million to payroll, and have about $6 million left for our final top six forward.
Sign, or Trade for, an Elite Forward: Limit of $6 million cap hit next season
I first approach Washington about Alexander Semin (1 year left, $6 million cap hit). I would consider any combination of the tradable assets above and/or a reasonable combination of draft picks for Semin. If a trade can be made, I think his 40+ goals and top-end offensive skill bring the most to this team for the power play (other than bringing a power play coach). Semin becomes an immediate threat that other teams must focus upon. That will help Hornqvist and the defensemen increase their offensive potential.
The other aspect of trading for Semin is that Arnott and Dumont might be more likely to waive their NMCs to go to a team like Washington if I can entice Washington enough to take on the additional salary.
If Semin is off the table, I might turn my attention to Patrick Marleau. I might also call Anaheim to discuss the possibilities of Bobby Ryan. If Poile was going to exceed $5 million for Phil Kessel, the possibility should exist to bring in a player of this caliber after clearing the salary we cleared to this point.
Other Options for the Final Top Six Forward
The next best option might be to trade for Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien (1 year left, $3 million). Doing so would mean that we move our tradable assets above for draft picks (or those role players) as Chicago could not take salary back. To me, that’s not a bad option as it gives me, I mean David Poile, significant options down the road. Byfuglien brings the size and willingness to play in front of the net. Between him and Patric Hornqvist, Nashville should be able to field two power play units that would be incredibly frustrating to play against and should be able to score at a much better pace- even if they are the ugly goals.
The final option here would be to bring back one of Dumont or Arnott. This is the least favorable option by far to me. This team must improve its power play and I believe retaining either does not do that. Bringing in a player of Semin’s caliber certainly provides that potential. Dustin Byfuglien brings another big body to the net. To me, retaining Dumont or Arnott does not improve the power play and does not help offset the change in philosophy of focusing on getting more production from the top six and less on depth scoring.
All three options complete the roster. The first brings the payroll to $47.9 million. The second option (Byfuglien) brings the payroll to $44.9 million. The final option brings the payroll to $45.9 – $46.4 million.
The latter two options actually allow the Predators to stay within their current budget, although only one of those options helps the Predators in my opinion. The first option however, has a potentially much higher reward, for only a slightly higher risk- in my opinion.
Down the Road
Next year, Steve Sullivan’s $3.75 million comes off the books. The Predators begin paying an additional $1 million for Shea Weber. That’s a net of $2.75 million to work with to fill the vacant top six role- that’s with a full $6 million already allocated to an elite forward.
If next season sees a deep run in the playoffs and/or increased ticket sales, the budget could potentially go higher. If an other-than-elite forward was not brought it, then there’s additional room to fill Sullivan’s vacant role. If Semin was brought in and he doesn’t work out, that’s another $6 million to work with (and two spots to fill). There’s also this kid named Radulov that will be free to return to the team after next season as well- for a nice, cheap price.
In two years time, it might become necessary to trade Ryan Suter. For this reason, I believe it important to keep one of Hamhuis or Grebeshkov as well as groom Jonathon Blum to step into Suter’s role. While one could argue to trade Weber instead, especially since the average Nashville fan considers Suter to be the better all-around defenseman at this time, I believe that Weber’s skills and assets are more difficult to replace both from within and via a trade. As such, I consider Suter the better asset to trade if necessary. That said, I don’t believe that trading him will be necessary.
There you have it, my impersonation of David Poile. Have fun with it. Or not.
About the Author: Nashville Predators Blogger, Software Engineer (C#.NET), Novice Woodworker, Southern Cook, Husband, Father of Two. You may contact me at David.R.Singleton AT gmail.com.