It’s no secret that the Nashville Predators, outside of a few depth signings, were quiet on the first day of free agency. While teams like the New Jersey Devils splashed on elite defensemen like Dougie Hamilton, the Predators’ most notable signing was bringing back Mikael Granlund on a four-year deal worth $5 million. Fans were distraught and ultimately confused with the complacency from the front office. However, David Poile’s approach after making comments about a “competitive rebuild” was the correct one.
Save Money for Extensions
The Predators have two major items on their agenda this upcoming season. Their names are Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm. Both will most likely want a lot of money on their next contracts, and both only have this upcoming season to prove their worth further. If they want to return to the team, the front office is sure to be wary about the money they’re giving out to other players.
Forsberg will get the bigger contract of the two. He is widely considered one of the most skilled forwards in the NHL but is being held back by the defensive systems in Nashville. His consistent scoring has been the only thing keeping the offense afloat, and if not for some unfortunate injuries, he could have had some incredible seasons. The contract that he signed in the summer of 2016 for six years was worth $36 million or $6 million average annual value (AAV). It would surprise no one if he got a lucrative deal worth around $8 million AAV or possibly more. It’s hard to predict simply because of his injury problems and whether they will continue to pop up. However, when healthy and in the right system, he could easily be one of the top-scoring forwards in the league.
As for Ekholm, he took a discount to stay with the team. His team-friendly $3.75 million cap hit is extremely attractive for other teams that might be in talks for a trade. It would be completely understandable if Ekholm felt as if he deserved more after putting up some Norris-caliber seasons since agreeing to the deal. Elliotte Friedman said on Darren, Daunic, and Chase on the local ESPN radio station 102.5 The Game that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the money over $5.5 million if the term is only three years. It would be another discount if he were to take any less with that term attached.
The Predators have $20 million in cap space and still have to sign restricted free agents like Juuse Saros, Eeli Tolvanen, and Dante Fabbro. The rest of the space would be available to sign both Ekholm and Forsberg. Still, if the front office decided to pursue someone like Tomas Tatar, that would bump their cap down by about $5.236 million if the projection by Evolving-Hockey becomes correct. The situation becomes much tighter than most might realize, even with one free agent signing.
Keep Lineup Slots Open
Not only does the cap situation become more and more cramped with signings, but so does the lineup card in training camp. Coaches have to make tough decisions, but players like Cody Glass and Philip Tomasino are coming into the fray this season. Glass was traded one-for-one for Nolan Patrick after the Predators acquired him from the Philadelphia Flyers in the Ryan Ellis trade. He had some injury problems with the Vegas Golden Knights, and coaching didn’t afford him quality ice time with the top players outside of the powerplay. He still put up 22 points in 66 games with the Knights and made lots of plays that proved he could be more if given a better shot. The second line center position is open to fill in, and he should get the chance to do that.
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Tomasino has been dominating the competition in both the OHL and AHL. He’s scoring atop both leagues and looked leagues ahead of some of his peers in the World Junior Championships with Team Canada. Poile has told the media that he expects him to make a solid impression in camp and possibly make the opening night lineup because of it. A big problem with the youth movement that he said was going to happen last season was that it didn’t happen. Primarily, it was because players like Brad Richardson, Erik Haula, and others were taking up valuable roster spots. Rem Pitlick proved he belonged when he was called up due to a spattering of injuries, but he wasn’t given a true shot due to the veterans he had signed in the offseason.
The definition of insanity coined by Albert Einstein is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. If the front office thought the best plan of attack was signing more free agents to fill up roster spots, I and many others would call them insane. Outside of goaltending, the younger players coming in and creating a spark was why the team even graced the playoff conversation. The youth is key to a spark, and giving them ample time without fear of losing their spot to someone coming off of injured reserve is an all-important vote of confidence.
There are obviously some other reasons that not committing large amounts of money to free agents is a good thing considering where the Predators stand. They have a core that had their shot, and it didn’t work out as they wanted. It’s time to bring in new, younger, and hungrier players that can do the job just as well as older players. They may not have experience, but the experience clearly isn’t pushing the team to new heights. A change of philosophy is exactly what the team needed, and whether it came in a full-scale rebuild or a “competitive rebuild,” it had to happen sooner rather than later. Free-agent signings certainly don’t help the team or players waiting in the wings get anywhere substantial.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings and Wild content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.