Minor Penalty- Too Many Men On Ice

As of Tuesday, July 06, 2010, the Predators will have 24 players on one-way contracts if you count likely contracts for the yet-to-be re-signed restricted free agents Patric Hornqvist, Ryan Parent, Cody Franson, and Mark Dekanich (or some other backup goalie).  That excludes Nick Spaling, who spent 28 games in Nashville last season and was expected to spend all of the 2011 season in Nashville prior to the roster moves.

It’s definitely been a busy offseason for David Poile and Predator fans should continue to expect more roster changes if only to downsize to a good size without having to bury contracts in the minors.  Has it been productive though?  That’s the real question to answer.  First, let’s see how the Predators have built their roster to this point (ignoring likely minor signings).

First the Predators re-signed Francis Bouillon on 6/18.  This officially kept 2/3 of the blueline in tact from last season.  On 6/19, the Predators made big news by trading their captain, Jason Arnott, to New Jersey for a prospect and a second round pick.  This freed up $4.5 million from the payroll and, combined with the trading away of Dan Hamhuis’ rights, stirred rumors of the Predators trying to drop their budget to the cap floor.  The aforementioned trade of Hamhuis, also on 6/19, brought former Predators’ first round pick Ryan Parent back to Nashville.  All was quiet until just prior to the free agency period when Nashville traded away the rights to Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd for troubled RFA Sergei Kostitsyn.  On 7/1, David Poile announced the signing of Jonas Andersson to a one-year, one-way contract.  Andersson was a former second round pick of the Predators back in 1999.  Then on 7/2, David Poile quashed the rumors of just trying to stay at the cap floor by signing Matthew Lombardi to a 3 year, $10.5 million contract ($3.5 million per year).  And today, Sergei Kostitsyn signed his one year, one-way contract for $550,000.  Whew.  Given the roster size, however, there’s definitely more to come.

So, assuming the remaining RFAs are signed, David Poile has added Sergei Kostitsyn, Jonas Andersson, and Matthew Lombardi to the forward core to replace Jason Arnott (and possibly Spaling if he’s sent back to Milwaukee).  Has it made Nashville a better team?  Jason Arnott scored 46 points last season (19G, 27A) in 63 games- a rate of 0.73 points per game.  While typically a good source of goal scoring for Nashville, his time was also unfortunately marred by several concussions and a tendency to disappear for significant stretches of games.  That, combined with a significant drop in goals (from 33 to 19), hurt his ability to help Nashville where they needed it most: a goal-scorer.  That said, he was one of only three Predators that put more than 200 shots on goal (Hornqvist and Weber the other two)- an issue that has plagued the Predators for years.  While many have lauded the offense that Lombardi will bring to the table, he’s never done anything more than put up seasons that were on par with Arnott’s worst statistical seasons- including last year.  He’s not a shooter either.  In terms of both shot count and shot percentage, Lombardi is essentially another Erat (although a much nicer priced Erat).  Kostitsyn and Andersson are both wild cards, but Kostitsyn has some history.  In the past two seasons, Kostitsyn has averaged about 1.3 shots per game (less than David Legwand) while posting roughly a 11% success rate (roughly equivalent to Lombardi).  On the other hand, all three are excellent skaters with Lombardi and Kostitsyn considered good two-way players.

Back to the question of whether Nashville is a better team with these changes- Nashville should be a much faster team and much more defensively responsible among the forwards (important given the likely downgrade of the blueline).  I also expect the penalty kill units to be much improved as well- certainly of great benefit to Nashville in particular.  Offensively, however, I don’t see that much of an increase if any at all.  The power play unit will lose a player that was willing to put the puck on net allowing for Hornqvist to have the opportunity to cash in on the rebounds.  While Nashville adds more in the way of playmakers, they have less who’s first instinct is to score goals.  Last season, Nashville was near the top in the league in depth scoring (number of players with 20-ish goals or more), but that didn’t matter come playoff time.  While I have liked everything that Poile has done to this point, there is still a significant need to bring in that goal scorer.  I believe that moving Arnott was a good thing, but the good things he brought to the table in shooting and goal scoring have yet to be replaced to this point.

What do fans of the Nashville Predators have to look forward to next?  Definitely some roster reduction will be in the works.  The most likely candidates to me: Cal O’Reilly ($575,000) and Alexander Sulzer ($700,000).  That would get the roster size down to 22 players (including all RFAs re-signed using the numbers I speculated about here) with an actual salary of about $45,575,000 ($46.7 million cap hit)- likely under the internal budget and about halfway between the cap floor and midpoint.  That scenario keeps with the shotgun approach of hoping several players contribute enough to boost the offensive statistics- particularly those power play statistics.  If Poile really wanted to surprise, he could move Jordin Tootoo (a player that has really struggled to fit his talents with the needs of the Predators) and J.P. Dumont in order to bring in that greatly needed sniper with the extra $5 million that would be freed with such a move.

At a minimum, the Predators should field a team that is much faster and stronger defensively among the forwards.  The blueline is a likely question mark given additional youth and the overall downgrade after Weber and Suter.  The seemingly age-old question about the power play has to hope that a bunch of playmakers will figure out that they’ll need to help Weber and Hornqvist score goals.  That might be too much to ask.

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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.

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