The Nashville Predators have already started their offseason, but that doesn’t mean the work for the 2020-21 season is complete. There are still a few teams playing, and some of those players are set to become free agents this summer. Keeping tabs on those players, how they’re holding up, and what they might be able to bring to the table next year are important questions the Predators should still be asking. Two players, in particular, David Krejci (whose Boston Bruins were just eliminated yesterday) and James Reimer, may be the best fits for the Predators next season.
The Predators enter the offseason with a few unrestricted free agents (UFAs) of their own, plus a handful of restricted free agents (RFAs) that need new contracts. The RFAs should all be returning, while the UFAs may all be finding work elsewhere next year. There is a very real possibility that the team brings back Mikael Granlund for another year, however, but both sides might also benefit from a change of scenery.
The cap situation is not as flexible as it once was in Nashville, but they do have plenty of options to manage the dollars if they want to bring in one free agent skater and one goalie. In theory, there is always room to maneuver in the name of a roster upgrade, but if the Preds want to continue to give the youth in their system a fair shot, then they also have to be cautious not to over-commit on roster spots. This is why the two names mentioned above fit in so well, as they would augment what is already in place for the team without necessarily blocking or taking away from the development of the future young core.
The Platoon Goalie: James Reimer (G)
With longtime goaltender Pekka Rinne contemplating his future, the Predators should be proactive in filling their second goaltender slot. Connor Ingram is the closest goalie prospect to the NHL, but after losing almost all of the 2020-21 season in the NHL’s Players Assistance Program, having a full season in the AHL to get his feet back under him would be ideal. He could then come in fresh with a chance to be the backup in the fall of 2022. Meanwhile, top 2020 draft pick Yaroslav Askarov is still developing in Russia, and depth goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo has just signed a deal with Leksands IF in Sweden.
The Predators will therefore have to look outside of the organization for Juuse Saros’ partner in crime for the 2021-22 season. A 50-55 starts for Saros would be ideal, so bringing in someone that can be a reliable presence for 25-30 starts is the initial target. Adding in a few parameters that the Predators won’t want to spend too much on a backup goalie and that they ideally won’t want to create a goaltending controversy. James Reimer is one realistic name that checks all the boxes.
The 33-year-old has been bouncing around the league as a backup and platoon option for the last few years, with his contract being the main reason that the Florida Panthers moved on from him. With that roadblock out of the way, and my salary projection algorithm showing a $1.6 million cap hit for Reimer would be sufficient, the Predators need to kick the tires here.
Reimer has put up solid numbers over the last two years with the Carolina Hurricanes. He sports a 29-11-4 record, with an identical 2.66 goals-against average (GAA) stat in both campaigns to go with a quality start percentage over 50%. For reference, Rinne has a GAA over 3.0 in the same time frame, and less than half of his starts have been quality ones.
The Offensive Catalyst Centre: David Krejci (C)
With the possibility of losing one of Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene in the offseason, or starting both on a line with Filip Forsberg, the Predators are staring at the possibility of multiple empty centre slots on the roster if neither Granlund or Erik Haula return. One could very easily be filled internally with the promotion of top skater prospect Philip Tomasino, however, the Predators should also be looking into options in the free-agent market. Ideally, they would find a centre that could anchor a second scoring line, giving the team the ability to roll lines more freely, which they have lacked for a long time, and was part of the issue against the Hurricanes in the playoffs.
One tried and tested player that may be available this summer is David Krejci. With a Stanley Cup ring to his name already, he may be on the move as a free agent. If the Boston Bruins were looking to re-sign Krejci, the thinking is that it would have been done already. The recently-turned 35 years old still has some gas left in the tank and should be willing to take a pay cut from his current $7.25 million price tag. My algorithm has him estimated at a $4.7 million cap hit, which would be very reasonable on a one or two-year deal.
Last season, Krejci put up a 71-point full-season scoring pace and won 54% of his faceoffs. For context, that is a higher win percentage than either Johansen or Duchene and a higher scoring pace than their combined rates. Krejci didn’t have to carry a heavy load defensively this past year with Boston’s ‘Perfection Line’ shouldering most of that weight, however, he has done so in previous years to great effect.
Krejci would also provide an excellent passing option on the top power play to pair with shooters Eeli Tolvanen, Filip Forsberg, and Roman Josi. Krejci has double-digit power-play points in every single season where he has played over 50 games and was on pace to top his career-high last season had the season been a full 82-game slate. If he is willing to leave Boston, Nashville would be the perfect fit.
Staying Patient in Free Agency
General manager David Poile did well last offseason when he waited out the market and then swooped in to sign Granlund and Haula to bargain deals. This season there may be some of the same styles of bargains to be found. There are plenty of centres on the market that could fit in, from the older offensive players like Ryan Getzlaf or Paul Stastny to the players that might just need a fresh start like Phillip Danault or Tomas Nosek. There are also always plenty of backup goalies available, so regardless of who the Predators pursue, they would be best served by not jumping into the initial heavy bidding when free agency opens.