In the coming weeks you're going to hear a lot about the Nashville Predators being sellers at the 2024 NHL trade deadline, and Tommy Novak should really be the only pending free agent that should be off limits to trading away.
Novak is arguably the most important unrestricted free agent for the Predators in the upcoming offseason. He is 26-years-old and only in his third season in the NHL, and really his first full-time season.
A former third-round pick from 2015 by the Predators, Novak put in the long journey through the NCAA ranks and AHL before finally getting his first call-up in October 2021.
Over that brief time span Novak is over a half point per game player, has been on the ice for 99 goals over 116 games, and his Corsi For percentage is 57.6 for his career and even more dominant in 2023-24 at 60.4. Novak only trails Filip Forsberg in this metric that usually predicts success for a team in shot attempt differential and dominant puck possession.
It's somewhat surprising considering the Predators look like sellers and Novak is a pending UFA, but Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff doesn't have Novak on his top-30 trade targets board currently. It wouldn't shock me if Seravalli adds Novak in if the Predators continue to fade out of the playoff picture.
Seravalli does have Tyson Barrie and Alexandre Carrier on his trade targets board. Like Novak, both are UFAs this offseason.
Predators Fading to Seller Status, But Trotz Should Look to Keep Novak
The Predators have done nothing to suggest that they're anything more than an early out in the playoffs, and that's a big reach to think they'll get one of the final two spots out of the several teams in the wildcard hunt.
When the Predators reeled off 13 wins in 16 games spanning over mid-November and mid-December, they were the hottest team in the league. Since then, the Predators have crashed back down to reality going 8-9-1 and now sitting outside of the playoff picture by one point.
Sure, a lot can happen between now and the March 8 deadline, but a part of me feels that General Manager Barry Trotz's mind is already made up. He should be looking for numerous trade partners interested in his bevy of free agents in 2024.
This brings me back to Novak, who still has a bright future as a top-six point producer and generator of offense. You can fairly argue that he hasn't come close to peaking yet, only being 116 games into his NHL career.
Novak missed 11 games due to injury this season, but is still 7th on the team in points with 21. He is just one point fewer than Luke Evangelista and four points fewer than Colton Sissons. After those two, only your top forward line and Roman Josi have more points than Novak.
Of course you can't every say you would "never" trade a certain player because everyone has a price you can't refuse, but being realistic here, I can't see any teams out there offering up something for Novak that you have to accept.
Novak is a player I could see really blossoming into a perennial 50 to 60-point scorer in the coming years, and letting him go through a trade with another team only to get back a mid to late round draft pick or another unproven prospect isn't something that Trotz should go for.
Thinking about Head Coach Andrew Brunette and the learning curve that's taking place to fine tune everything, Novak is a player you want around while everything evolves past this season and into 2024-25.
Novak plays the style Brunette wants. He's a fast skater, but also has really strong hockey IQ for being so inexperienced, and moves the puck well to make quick decisions to find open linemates. Novak's game should only continue to get more polished in the next couple of years.
This brings me to how relatively straightforward it should be to get Novak a contract extension. I don't see him commanding some outlandish raise because he simply hasn't been around long enough to expect that.
If Novak were to test the open free agency market in the offseason, sure he would get plenty of interest, but he would be betting on himself that a team is willing to invest in him much more than what Trotz should already be ready to invest in.
Novak Should be Relatively Inexpensive & End Up as a Bargain Over Next 2 Years
So with that laid out, Novak should be able to easily be retained for at least two years and around $2.5 million. That puts him right at what Cody Glass got in July of 2023, and we can agree that Novak's future at least at the moment looks much brighter than Glass'.
I can't see Novak expecting much more than that on his side, and if that isn't enough to get a contract extension agreed upon, then maybe you have to let him walk. This is why you have to be testing the waters now to get Novak signed before the trade deadline gets here.
The only way I can see justifying trading Novak is if the trade deadline day gets here and negotiations with Novak have broken down and Trotz feels both sides are too far apart to get anything worked out before the offseason. If that happens, which I don't expect it to be the case, then you settle on trading him. That would be painful, but necessary at that point.
I just can't see Novak wanting out that bad. He has a vital role here that he can grow into and should be interested in re-signing for multiple years and a yearly pay raise from $800,000 to $2.5 million. The Predators have plenty of cap space to make this happen if Novak wants it, and in the end it could end up being a bargain for the Predators over the next two seasons.
The Predators crossed one 2024 free agent forward off the list by re-signing Cole Smith to a two-year contract extension worth $1 million per year. Again, Novak is obviously worth considerably more than Smith as he has top-six offensive skills and a much higher ceiling.
Any of the other 2024 Predators free agents should be on the table to be traded, and Trotz needs to be assessing the interest in all of them as we speak because we all know the hard truth that the Predators a few years off from doing anything spectacular in the playoffs.