Just because the Nashville Predators are going in a rebuilding direction does not mean they are done having to pay up for some of their players, including Alexandre Carrier.
They currently have a cap hit of just over $65.5M for the 2023-24 season, which leaves them plenty to spend in the offseason, but with still some pivotal decisions to be made.
Most specifically, those pivotal decisions revolve around Carrier and Cody Glass.
There is not much if any doubt about what happens with Glass, as he just had easily the best season of his young career and is a huge part of the team’s future (and really current) top six.
With Carrier, however, things are not so cut and dry. He too is known as a critical piece of the team’s future, but factors in and out of his control have made his future with the Predators not as certain as it was a year ago.
Do not get me wrong, he is still very promising and the team undoubtedly will want to bring him back, but it might not be so simple.
Carrier’s second season with Nashville Predators didn’t go as planned
At the end of the 2021-22 season, Carrier looked like he was a sure part of the Predators’ long-term plans. Every part of his game had seriously improved in the latter stages of last year, and a spot on the NHL’s all-rookie team was a good sign that he would only improve.
First of all, his point production dropped off quite significantly, with just two goals and seven assists in 43 games. For someone whose game features a good bit of offense, that was concerning, but with how the Predators whole offense struggled in the early part of the year, it is hard to judge Carrier alone.
And to Carrier’s credit, he was starting to pick it up two months into the season. He had started the year alongside Roman Josi and did not look great, but then was switched to a pair with Mattias Ekholm, and it worked much better for him.
Being more of a two-way, offensive-minded defensemen, Carrier fit well with Ekholm and his purely defensive tendencies, and the two became a very solid duo. Unfortunately, it did not last very long.
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Besides Ekholm getting traded at the trade deadline, Carrier sustained an injury in a fight about a month before that, which kept him out of the lineup almost all the way until then. But even with another partner, Carrier would at least get an opportunity to finish the year strong, or so we expected.
In just his third game back, he suffered another injury after taking a puck to what looked to be the collarbone, and it ultimately ended his season. It was just a brutally unlucky sequence of events for Carrier late in his second year, as he was robbed of the opportunity to further prove to the Predators that he was an integral part of their future.
Now, there are more questions regarding the youngster, but fortunately none of them are deal breakers at this point. The Predators will be wise to hang onto him for a few more years, as the talent is there and his regression this year was not big enough to worry about him truly declining.
But it will make negotiations more difficult, and in this particular situation, that is cause for serious concern about his future on the Predators.
Negotiations for Carrie’s New Contract Might Get Bumpy
First of all, Carrier is arbitration eligible, and not only could it force the organization into signing a contract they would rather not, it could force some hard feelings between both sides depending on how it is handled. But what truly makes a potential arbitration worrisome is what that could mean for next year, and consequently the years after.
Oftentimes when a contract negotiation goes to arbitration, the team can live with it since when the next contract expires, they are still restricted free agents and still under the rights of the team. That is not at all the case with Carrier.
Carrier is 26-years-old, and anyone who is 27 or older is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent.
Normally, if an arbitration case is ultimately decided by the arbitrator, the player is given a one or two-year contract, either of which would make Carrier a free agent at their expirations.
So what that means is that the Predators would ideally sign Carrier to at least a four-year contract, but they may not feel comfortable doing that. Given his inexperience and how he faired in 2022-23, it would be hard to blame them for not wanting to.
Recent history also shows that not only is arbitration very possible, it is actually likely. It happened with Rocco Grimaldi back in 2019, it happened with Yakov Trenin in 2022, and it even happened with Juuse Saros in 2021.
Luckily, the Predators and Saros ended up coming to an agreement before the process ended, but the other two players were awarded contracts by the arbitrators. And it certainly does not take away from how tough the negotiations with Saros were.
Of course, the Predators have a new GM, and we do not quite know how Barry Trotz will deal with a situation like this. But it is fair to expect this situation to drag out for awhile, as both sides will do their respective thing for as long as possible.
But from the perspective of Trotz and the Predators’ front office, they have to be very careful. They are in a dilemma because they cannot afford to just lose a homegrown player like Carrier for nothing, but has he done enough for them to be sold for the long term?
There is no scenario in which the Predators are not taking some risks, but right now, giving Carrier anything more than a two-year contract is a bit much. We need to see more before he can be truly worthy of a long-term deal, and honestly a two-year contract is what would be ideal.
A one-year contract is not desirable because that puts Carrier on track to hit the open market in the 2024 offseason. In that case, the Predators would not hold the cards in negotiations, and they may not feel comfortable giving him a deal that he could get elsewhere.
Three years is too long because if Carrier were to blossom next year, they would prefer to just lock him up then, but would have to wait another year since contracts can only be extended one year before expiration. At that point, Carrier’s asking price might be less than preferable from the Predators’ point of view.
Two years is the best here because it keeps Carrier within the team’s control long enough for them to get a firm grip on his career progression, and it also gives them the opportunity to extend his contract before he hits the open market. If that happens, it means that Carrier actually wants to stay on the Predators, which would make negotiations much easier for everyone.
Ultimately, I think that is what happens. It will be a long and hard process, but I think the Predators realize how important Carrier is to the team and will do enough to just avoid arbitration, even if it means giving him slightly more than they want to.
My prediction is a two-year contract worth $6.5M ($3.25M AAV).
That puts Carrier reasonably above Dante Fabbro‘s cap hit, but also reasonably under $4M per year, which is right about what he deserves.
There is a good chance that Carrier ends up being worth well more than this even as early as next year, but the 2022-23 season put him in more of a prove-it situation than both he and the Predators had hoped.
Regardless, there should still be lots of excitement about his future on the team, and there remains a good chance that both sides work out a plan for the long haul.