The Predators training camp for rookies begins one week from Monday. This is great news for hockey fans who have been bored all summer that they found great fun in watching re-runs of the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs on the NHL Network. The news isn’t so great for all the unrestricted free agents who are still without homes.
There has been some movement in the last couple of days from a couple big-make players. Jonathon Cheechoo will be joining the Dallas Stars at their training camp for a professional tryout. Mike Comrie signed a one-year deal with the Penguins for the league minimum $500,000, a couple weeks back Tim Kennedy inked with the Rangers for $550,000. At rock bottom prices, who wouldn’t try to sign a Mike Comrie for 3 times less money than Derek Boogaard will get paid for playing a third of the season?
Obviously the spending cap is what has stopped teams from bringing players back or signing news ones. Many teams still have some cap issues, and as a result we will see some roster moves through trade, buyout or a very active waiver wire before the puck officially drops on the 2010-2011 season. Teams to watch (read: teams that have spent too much) are Vancouver and Boston each being more than $3 million over the spending limit. Calgary is more than $2 million over the cap, with Toronto and the Rangers less than $200 000 over the spending limit. Detroit has about $70 000 left to spend, but they do have almost $1 million in bonuses for next year, so they might be facing cap penalties at the start of the 2011-2012 year if those bonuses are met. Ottawa, Philly and the Penguins all have less than $1 million of cap space left. None of these dollar amounts take into account the possibility that a player gets injured and some spending needs to be done throughout the season.
Most people know the Predators have a good $13 million left in cap space, but the team always has a self-imposed cap for the financial stability of the team. Good news for Preds fans is that Nashville’s team improved during the off season, despite not spending anywhere near what has been spent on players. Despite the Predators rock solid off season moves, as predictions for the upcoming season start coming out, Nashville is also seen as on the outside of the post-season looking in (I’m looking at you The Hockey News). As the summer winds down and the offseason wraps up, the hockey season is set to begin with only Cody Franson remaining to be signed, and with the potential addition of a backup goalie in the near future.
The Predators appear set with no room for even rookies who might play their way on to the team, effectively placing someone else on waivers. Without taking into account specific forward positions, the Predators have enough forwards on one-way deals to make 5 lines. Lombardi, Erat and Hornqvist, Wilson, Kostitsyn, and Sullivan, Legwand, Ward and Andersson, and Goc, Tootoo and Dumont would make 4 solid lines. This is based on the assumption that Wilson is moved to center, with Andersson and Kostitsyn having been penciled in as already having earned roster spots. Belak will be used when needed. So this leaves Smithson and O’Reilly on the outside looking in. It also leaves the highly touted Linus Klasen in the American Hockey League.
Despite the logjam at forward, are there are free agents worth adding to Nashville’s already crowded dinner table? In other words, are there any unrestricted free agents left to be signed that would make the hockey pundits on this side of the border and up north take notice of a Nashville team that has consistently held its own in the tough central division for several years now? It’s worth taking a look.
I’m surprised Guerin remains unsigned. If Ray Whitney can get a $3 million deal out of Phoenix, won’t someone take a chance on a proven winner to help out with a young team perhaps? Guerin has been skating in Philadelphia with the Flyers but insists that it is just cause he’s in town, not because he wants a tryout. The veteran turns 40 in November and was still a 20-goal scorer last season. Are 20 goals a good enough reason to sign someone? There is a good argument to be mad that it is easier to get points when you play with Sidney Crosby. Just look at the number for Alex Burrows when he was playing with the Sedin twins and when he was taken off their line.
But the Crosby factor aside, Guerin wins faceoffs. Nashville’s special teams need fixing and Guerin wouldn’t likely find much time on the power play with the addition of Lombardi this off season. He was been between -9 and -15 since 2007 and that includes the last two years playing on a line with said scoring machine (and national treasure). Chances are, Guerin isn’t the answer to our pk problem either, but put him on a line with Leggy and Ward and see what happens. Let him on the ice to take important faceoffs. He couldn’t hurt.
Svatos has become another one of those players who have a great year, everyone thinks they are the legit deal, and then they sort of fizzle out real fast. In 54 games last year, Svatos registered a career low 11 points, 7 goals and 4 assists. Contrast last season, his 5th year in the NHL, with his rookie campaign in 2003 when Svatos registered 50 points in 61 games. We don’t need anymore players that have beaten the odds (Hornqvist and Ward…even Rinne didn’t get drafted in his year of eligibility) or have been rejected by their own team as having never lived up to the expectations (Goc and Kostitsyn), or have continuously failed our own expectations after setting their own bar pretty high (Legwand and Erat). Sure most Preds fans are very grateful we have the list of players mentioned above, but to add another feel-good comeback story would be to take a roster spot from a player who, other than Kostitsyn, has played Predators-style hockey and has earned a spot at the table. Pass.
O’Sullivan is on the list because of those “rumors” spinning around that Nashville was going to sign the ex-Oiler. O’Sullivan is a very average player who was a very below average -35 for the season. Not one to think the +/- statistic is particularly useful, this can especially be made the case when your team was the Edmonton Oilers of last season. He went from -6 the year before to -35, but his point totals remained semi-constant at 43 points when he split time between L.A. and Edmonton and 34 last season. My assessment of the center is that he is O’Reilly but with a chance to have played. We don’t know what O’Reilly can really do because he hasn’t been given a roster spot where he wasn’t constantly looking over his shoulder to see if he’d be playing the next game or not. Pass.
We all remember him well because he played like a beast during the Stanley Cup run the Penguins had in 2009. The 31 year old left wing is a consistent 30 point man, playing 3rd line minutes. That alone should qualify him for some serious consideration. Fedotenko is a proven left-wing who could easily fit in with Legwand and Ward, giving our defensive forward dynamic duo a line mate that can set up and finish off plays.
Even though we are stacked at all forward positions, at center, we are overwhelmed, so it would be a hard sell to convince me that Wellwood is more suited for a roster spot than either Lombardi, Wilson, Legwand or Goc. There’s no way. And to boot, this is a kid who had two good seasons and has continued to decrease in offensive productivity ever since. Pass.
Guerin or Fedotenko would be additions to the team that would force hockey insiders to talk about the Predators as having a legit shot at the top 8 in the Western Conference. One major criticism of Nashville is that Andersson and Kostitsyn look good in theory because there is hype about them, but neither have actually really produced at the NHL level and so they can’t help the Predators until they have proven themselves. Maybe the Predators shouldn’t be putting so much faith into their own 1999 draft pick who now seems to be coming into his own at the age of 30. Plug in a new linemate for Legwand and Ward, and maybe we reshape not only the team dynamics and expectations but also fix some of last season’s special team woes.
You are invited to follow me on twitter @Predlines.com