Preview: Predators’ Offseason

The coaching staff is now likely set assuming the team picks up the option on Peter Horachek.  With the re-signing of Mitch Korn and promotion of Lane Lambert, Poile and Trotz can now turn the majority of their attention to filling out their roster for next season.  (Jeremy Gover has kindly provided a list of the key dates as it pertains to the (re-)signing of players.)

Setting the Stage…

According to CapGeek, Nashville has $40,837,500 in cap dollars committed to 17 players (10 forwards, 5 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders).  While they have $21,562,500 of cap money to spend, Nashville traditionally stays below the midpoint.  Since that’s done for the purpose of obtaining the maximum amount of revenue sharing possible, it’s the real dollars that matter and not the cap hits as they budget toward that midpoint.

Turning again to CapGeek, Nashville will be spending $41,550,000 in real money for those 17 players (which includes Matt Lombardi and Francis Boullion whether they end up playing or not).  If the cap moves to $62.4 million as expected, that will produce a midpoint of $54.4 million giving David Poile $12,850,000 available to him in order to stay under the midpoint.  Actually, he’ll have a little less in order to have room for call-ups and moves around the trade deadline.  Let’s give him an even $11 million for the offseason then.

The Roster…

Here are those 17 players that are under contract for next season:

Forwards: Martin Erat, David Legwand, Mike Fisher, J.P. Dumont, Matthew Lombardi, Patric Hornqvist, Colin Wilson, Jordin Tootoo, Blake Geoffrion, Jerred Smithson

Defensemen: Ryan Suter, Francis Bouillon, Kevin Klein, Jonathon Blum, Cody Franson

Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne, Anders Lindback

The Decisions…

On the surface, $11 million for 4 – 5 players doesn’t seem so bad.  However, the salary for Norris trophy-finalist Shea Weber has to come out of that.  There’s also decisions to be made on several key contributors from last season: Joel Ward, Sergei Kostitsyn, Nick Spaling, Shane O’Brien, Marcel Goc, Cal O’Reilly, Matt Halischuk and Steve Sullivan.  Finally, of course, there’s also that never-ending quest to boost the offense even further.

Re-signing Shea Weber will be at the top of David Poile’s offseason to-do list.  At the end of the day, I think we see something like a 5-year contract breaking out at $5, $6, $7, $7, and $7 million for a $6.4 million cap hit.  That lower initial salary gives Poile room to absorb the boost to Erat’s salary this season as well as the potential having to weather the injuries to Lombardi and Bouillon further.  It’s not the contract I’d like to see, but it’s what I expect.

That contract would leave David Poile with roughly $6 million for another bottom-pairing defenseman (free agent or Milwaukee promotion), a top six forward, and a couple forwards for the bottom six.

Unfortunately for Shane O’Brien, Blum’s play pushed him down to the bottom pairing at the end of the season and David Poile isn’t going to pay what O’Brien will command in that slot.  Barring an unexpected trade of one of the top four, I expect Shane O’Brien to test the market and Poile to either promote from within or bring in a veteran making right at $1 million.  That leaves $5 million for three, maybe four, forwards.  Which forwards though?

Focusing strictly on their own free agents at the moment, I don’t think you could put Steve Sullivan ahead of any other forward on that list at the moment.  I also don’t think you risk embarrassing or angering Sullivan with some type of low-ball offer.  Hopefully there’s a spot in the organization for Sullivan off the ice and he would be agreeable to that move.  I just don’t see a scenario where Steve Sullivan is on the ice for the Nashville Predators next season outside of a significant movement of personnel.

I also don’t think that Matt Halischuk has done enough at this point to guarantee a full-time NHL roster spot.  Dropping him from the list, that leaves $5 million for a maximum of four roster spots but a better chance of only three spots.  If more than a couple of Goc, O’Reilly or Ward walk, Halischuk could come back into the Predator’s NHL picture.

Joel Ward, Sergei Kostitsyn, Nick Spaling and Marcel Goc likely did the most to justify a decent raise.  O’Reilly has youth and offensive potential on his side.  Ward made $1.5 million last year, while the none of the others topped $775,000.

Would Kostitsyn and Ward both come back for $2 million and either Goc or Spaling for $1 million?  If Weber demands more than $5 million for that first year, it’ll get even more interesting.

The Future…

In Nashville, you can’t just look at the upcoming offseason.  You have to look at the next several to make sure things “fit” the budget structure.  The future for Nashville primarily revolves around Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter as both are entering the last year of their contracts.  Keeping our focus on the real dollars and not cap hit, Suter will definitely command a significant raise if he’s re-signed.  Rinne, however, will be making $4 million for the upcoming season.  There are not too many teams that look to put $5 – $6 million in one goalie any longer.  While I expect Nashville to be one of few that do, jumping from $4 to $5 million will not be quite the leap that Suter’s new contract would bring.

Additionally, next season will see Nashville recoup $2 million in real money as the actual salary paid to Erat, Legwand and Mike Fisher will drop by that much.  They’ll recoup an additional $4 million with the expiration of J.P. Dumont’s contract as well.

The Rumored Available (Potential Trades)…

Right now, there are significant forwards that are rumored to be available if Poile decides to look in that direction.  Names like Zach Parise and Jeff Carter have been bandied about all over the place (although not necessarily in the same breath as Nashville).

While a line featuring Jeff Carter and Patric Hornqvist whets the appetite, those type of players would require real assets in return- like some combination of Colin Wilson, Cody Franson, or maybe even both of Pierre Lebrun’s twins (congrats Pierre!).  That’s a high cost and a significant departure from Nashville’s management team to this point.  And, while Wilson and Franson might be a good starting point in obtaining a player like a Jeff Carter for the Predator’s trade partner, the two don’t move much salary out of Nashville to make room for a contract like Carter’s to fit properly.

I also don’t think you’ll see Suter as part of the discussion unless he just doesn’t want to come back to Nashville or wants more than Weber.  Nashville will build from the goal out for the foreseeable future.  You don’t jeopardize that recipe by altering the fundamental ingredients like that.

If the ownership group ever subscribes to the theory of teams having a “window” to win a Cup, Nashville could really maximize that window if they so desire.  With the roster in its current form, and what’s yet to come with Suter and Rinne, it would require the ownership group to exceed the midpoint for that type of endeavor, or find a way to move a contract or two like Martin Erat or J.P. Dumont.

Right now, there’s no indication the time is right for that.  It’ll be interesting if that ever happens.

David Singleton

You are invited to follow me on Twitter (@SingletonPreds).  For game recaps of all Predators games as well as great insights on the Predators and the NHL, check out my HockeyIndependent colleague, Mark Willoughby (@TheViewFrom111).

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