Earlier this week I looked at one of Tennessean reporter Josh Cooper’s five predictions for the Nashville Predators’ 2013 season (if indeed there is one), disagreeing with his assessment that Sergei Kostitsyn will lead the team in scoring. I think he hits the mark on most of his other predictions, though, especially when he says that the Nashville Predators will endure no drama in the off-season for the first time in a while.
Nashville’s past off-seasons have indeed been rocky. This past off-season saw all the drama unfold with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Weber’s arbitration was the year before that. Throw in a Craig Leipold fire sale and a dash of Boots Del Biaggio, and you have a track record of summertime misery and anxiety for Nashville Predators fans. But a look into the near future says that we won’t have near as much to worry about in 2013 off-season.
Nashville Predators UFAs
With only four scheduled UFAs on the roster, 2013 promises to be a different beast altogether for both the Preds front office and fans in Nashville. Per capgeek.com, four players on the Preds’ roster are scheduled for UFA status after the 2013 season: Chris Mason, Scott Hannan, Brandon Yip, and Brian McGrattan. In other words we’ll have to make plans to either resign or replace a backup goalie, a veteran third-pair defenseman who has yet to play a game in gold, a fourth-line scrapper picked up off waivers last year, and a fan-favorite enforcer. Then there are two other players on Milwaukee’s roster – veteran d-man Mike Moore and forward Chris Mueller – whose expiring contracts with Nashville would make them UFAs. So far as sources of drama go, none of these are a potential Suter or Weber.
What will be more interesting is the kind of stuff that likely won’t garner sports-network coverage because people in other markets are never going to care about the way they cared about, say, the potential of their team landing a coveted Preds defenseman. The first will be any potential free-agent signings the team might make. The team has some needs to address, and free agency could be one path to doing so. But it has never really been a top priority for Preds GM David Poile, and trying to figure out what the UFA market is going to look like under an as-yet-nonexistent CBA is nearly impossible.
I’m more interested in what the team decides to do with some of its upcoming RFAs.
Will Jonathon Blum’s services be retained? Blum’s been a bit of a letdown since the end of the 2009-10 campaign. But given the current state of the Nashville defensive corps, there aren’t a lot of other internal options to replace him. David Poile might opt to make a trade during the season (another of Josh Cooper’s predictions), and that could involve Blum, though one has to think his stock has dropped with other teams. He could sign Blum to a short contract, as happened last off-season as Blum’s entry-level deal expired. Or Blum could have a renaissance late this season and earn himself a new contract worth a few years. His future is probably cloudier than any other Predators player, but the good news for him is that his fate is in his own hands.
What will happen with Milwaukee goalie Jeremy Smith? With Pekka Rinne in the net for the foreseeable future, will Smith end up going the same way former Nashville prospect Mark Dekanich did before the 2011-12 season? Dekanich, a 5th-round pick for Nashville back in 2006, posted three winning seasons in goal for the Ads from 2008-09 to 2010-11:
But Dekanich only ever played in one game for the Nashville Predators. He signed a one-year contract with Columbus in the 2011 off-season after rejecting Nashville’s offer, and he signed with Winnipeg last summer. Jeremy Smith has been similarly solid in net for the Admirals over the last two years, but his situation is a little different than Dekanich’s was. During Dekanich’s decision period, Nashville had Rinne, Anders Lindback, and Smith all in the system. Right now, pending UFA Mason is the only player ahead of Smith for the job of backing up Rinne, while his own backup Magnus Hellberg is a long way from being NHL-ready. I think he’ll be back, but one never knows, now does one?
Patric Hornqvist and Roman Josi
I have no doubt that both Patric Hornqvist and Roman Josi will be re-signed before the 2013-14 season begins. The only real question in my mind is how much each of them will cost the team. Hornqvist’s current deal, signed after his 30-goal season in 2009-10, is worth $3.08 million per year. Josi’s expiring entry-level contract is worth $1m annually.
Being RFAs means their rights can be retained by Nashville with a minimum qualifying offer, but will that be enough to get their signatures? Or will Poile have to offer more? Both of these European players would be snapped up in a heartbeat by clubs back home, and I have to think that’s worth some kind of leverage for them when they’re seeking better terms.
Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk
Both Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk have played their way into niche roles on the lower lines for Coach Barry Trotz. The main question for me is whether that’s going to be enough to keep both of them in the mix.
There’s a talented group of young forwards playing in Milwaukee right now, including Austin Watson and Michael Latta. Most of them still need some seasoning, but the fact is they’re knocking on the door. Sometimes all it takes for a player to make a roster spot for himself is an opportunity (just ask Jon Blum or Gabriel Bourque).
The team is only carrying 22 players right now, so there’s roster space for both Spaling and Halischuk even if another younger player were to make the cut and the team retained all its other pending free agents. And both players are pretty cheap – $1.06m for Spals and $712k for Hustlechuk. Still, with uncertainty about future salary cap and the outside chance for trades or free agency to impact the team’s roster, I think there’s enough reason to wonder whether both of them will don the Nashville Predators gold again in 2013-14.