After adding goal-scorer James Neal over the weekend, the Nashville Predators enter the NHL’s free agency period with one more item circled on their wish list.
Predators General Manager David Poile attempted to add a first line center to his roster during the NHL Draft festivities, but Ottawa Senators Jason Spezza blocked a deal that would have sent him to Nashville. The inability to acquire the top center disappointed Poile, but it also renewed his drive to add one through free agency.
“In this case it was made public that [Jason Spezza] was available and obviously he’s a top-six forward, and I wouldn’t be doing the right thing for our franchise if I didn’t investigate. We had some peliminary discussions with Ottawa–knowing he had a limited no-trade contract–and once it was determined it was his wish not to play in Nashville, discussions ended. We’ve moved on,” Poile said. “My vision is that at some point we’ll get a top center. We’re trying to get a top-six and specifically a top-three guy.”
The trade market already brought in one top-three forward to the Predators via the deal over the weekend for James Neal, but the goal-scorer becomes even more effective if he’s given a talented center to help set him up. Adding Neal to the first line was a big plus, but Poile still sees a No. 1 center as a need in Nashville. That’s evidenced by his pursuit of Spezza.
Now the Predators turn to free agency where a few (but solid) options will be available.
“I think the window for the type of player we’re looking for is in the first few days in July. Every now and then a guy slips through until closer to the fall, but I don’t think that would happen for who we want,” Poile said a couple weeks ago. “For the most part, the first two or three days are all there is for the type of names you would say we’re going after, period.”
With so many teams looking for skilled forwards themselves, the Predators will make an aggressive and early push for a center. They’ll likely know in 48 hours or less after free agency opens at 11 a.m. (CDT) if they’ll be able to sign the forward they want.
Here are the top three center options currently available for Nashville:
Former team: Colorado Avalanche
Info: Reportedly drawing interest from more than a dozen clubs, the 28-year-old is the premiere center on the market this summer. Stastny put up 60 points last season while centering rookie Nathan MacKinnon and winger Ryan O’Reilly (who had a career year in points) for the majority of the season. The Quebec City native has been a solid setup man for the majority of his career, and he was a big part of Colorado’s Central Division winning season in 2013-2014.
Former team: Arizona Coyotes
Info: Mike Ribeiro only spent one season with the Coyotes after signing a four-year $22 million deal with the club last year as a free agent. The center’s contract was bought out last week due to “behavioral issues” in a season that saw him put up his lowest point total in over 10 years (16 goals and 31 assists). Forty-seven points being a decade-low for Ribeiro shows how productive he’s been over his career, however. The 34-year-old topped 77 points in both 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.
Former team: New York Rangers
Info: Also recently bought out by his former club, the 34-year-old tallied 20 goals and 51 points last campaign. Richards is more of a two-way center that the Predators aren’t really in the market for, but like Ribeiro, he should sign for a lot less money than Stastny. Richards and Neal played together in Dallas for multiple seasons, so the center and winger do have history between them.