The Nashville Predators forward group is essentially set for the 2014-2015 season, but the club will be in the market for at least one dynamic center or winger this summer.
With only one out of 12 forward spots open next season (assuming restricted free agent forward Nick Spaling is re-signed), the Predators will need to make their (likely) one or two offseason acquisitions high impact players.
In July, Nashville will be in search of offensive aid after finishing in the bottom half of the NHL in scoring their last pair of campaigns (and failing to qualify for the postseason in both). Attempting to quickly bolster the Predators forward corps through free agency this summer makes the most sense, and signing the right players should also help new head coach Peter Laviolette‘s style of play transition smoothly in Nashville.
The first candidate Predators general manager David Poile should give a look at this summer is Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny. The 28-year-old center has tallied at least 20 goals in all but two of his eight NHL seasons and is coming off a 60-point effort with the recent Central Division winners.
Why Stastny would work in Nashville: Stastny would represent an immediate upgrade to the Predators top line at center. The Quebec City native is both a set-up man and finisher, something the Predators haven’t had in their lineup in years. Stastny centered Colorado’s first line between forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O’Reilly for a large part of this past season and was a consistent feature in the team’s high-scoring offense. The Predators are aging up the middle (Fisher and Cullen will be 34 and 38 respectively next season), and Laviolette’s system flourishes if youth and speed are at the center of his forward group. Forwards Craig Smith and Patric Hornqvist benefit from a center drawing an opponent’s attention, something Stastny did for rookie phenom MacKinnon and O’Reilly this year. Shifting Cullen and Fisher to more of a defensive role will help balance Nashville’s lines, while giving Stastny, Smith and Hornqvist the freedom to create up front on the No. 1 line.
Why he’ll be an option: Adrian Dater of the Denver Post commented last week that Stastny “holds all the cards” when it comes to future contract negations with the Avalanche and that this “could be worrisome” for the club. The Predators new division rival may be forced to choose between Stastny and O’Reilly (who will be a restricted free agent) in order to prevent shelling out two near-max deals in one offseason. Both players should be looking for seven or eight years and $6 or $7 million per season and that could likely be too much for the Avalanche to shell out. Mile High Sticking wrote earlier this month that trying to re-sign O’Reilly and Stastny would prevent the club from upgrading in other areas and that it would be best to let Stastny walk.
Conclusion: In summary, Stastny would fit nicely in the Predators system and as their No. 1 center this fall. Nashville may have to overpay for a borderline first line player, but the club has to make a strong push for a consistent scorer like Stastny if at all possible. The Predators should sell to Stastny that he’ll be the star on offense in Music City (and give him a hefty contract), and they might just be able to pry him away from other clubs vying for his services.