Last week, Nick Spaling filed for salary arbitration, putting Nashville at an odd spot to deal with the restricted free agent. After the Predators finished their free agent shopping spree, Nashville ended with 15 potential forwards on their roster. As fans try to prognosticate the future lines, the first 12 are different combinations of Fisher, Stalberg, Hornqvist, Wilson, Cullen, Smith, Legwand, Borque, Nystrom, Hendricks, Clune, Gaustad. For most fans, he last three forwards on the list are Spaling, Forsberg and Beck. Either Spaling can replace one of the first 12, or he will be left out in the cold.
As with any restricted free agent, there are the famous three possibilities every fan debates: Trade, Sign or Drop.
Ideally for the Predators, this would be the best situation. If they could get a draft pick for him or package with some prospects, the Preds would have a good thing going. They don’t have to pay him what he wants and they have assets they can work with.
This is also the most unlikely situation for the Predators as well. It’s really easy for fans to say a player should be traded, but there has to be a dance partner for a trade to go down. We already saw similar situations with Jonathan Blum and Matt Halischuck. David Poile worked the phones and tried to trade them, but our new division rivals (Minnesota and Winnipeg) waited until they could sign them for what they wanted. A team isn’t likely to trade for a restricted free agent they can wait for.
If the Preds are going to play the arbitration game with Nick Spaling, it is pretty clear the forward is trying to get all he is worth. With the Preds lineup signing depth in the forward department, it doesn’t look like Spaling will play fourth-line minutes in Nashville. Yes, it’s likely there are some teams out there that could use Spaling’s services, but all they need to do is wait.
In the shortened season, Spaling scored nine goals, a definite improvement over his ten goals in a full 2011-12 season. A fourth line forward that can get those kinds of numbers can be something special to have in the playoffs. He is a player that does things “the Predator way” and is a good depth player. After all, he did score the game-winning goal in Game 5 of the Preds/Ducks series.
The problem with signing him will be the salary arbitration hearing. Spaling had a two-year contract that paid him one million per year, and now he can ask for more money. If the Preds sign Spaling, he will have a contract that is “playing money,” rather than “healthy scratch money.” It would be worth signing him, just to keep him on reserve.
If the Preds just go through the process and let Spals walk as a free agent, the Predators don’t lose anything. They can save some money (and have some available in case they aren’t done with free agent signings) and and they have four solid lines and talent in Milwaukee to pull from. It looks like this will be the likely solution for Nashville.