The Nashville Predators have resolved their issues with their restricted free agents, signing Sergei Kostitsyn, Nick Spaling, Matt Halischuk, Chris Mueller, and Cal O'Reilly. Kostitsyn signed a one year contract for $2.5 million; Spaling signed for 2 years for $2.1 million; Halischuk signed a 2 year deal for $1.45 million; Mueller signed a one year, two way contract for $550,000; and O'Reilly signed a 1 year deal for $1.05 million.
These signings are good ones for the Predators, solidifying the core of the team. Kostitsyn's signing is particularly important for the Predators, as he led the team in goals with 23 and tied for the lead in points with 50.
While the Predators have resolved the issue of signing their players, there is still a hearing with arbitrator George Nicholau as to the propriety of the process. In talking to the Predators front office, the view is that the Predators organization did not maliciously attempt to circumvent the process of signing the RFA's. They did, however, violate the protocol by failing to fax the offer sheets to the players and the agents. As such, there could be a fine to the organization or a warning issued. That will be decided in the grievance hearing. The probability of the contracts being voided by the arbitrator is considered to be non-existent.
Along with these RFA's, the Predators have also signed in the free agency period Zach Stortini, Kyle Wilson, Niclas Bergfors, and Brodie Dupont. Of these, Bergfors will be the biggest impact player for the team. Last season, he posted 36 points in 72 games, and the 24 year old winger has good offensive upside. Bergfors will have to improve his overall game and become more solid in the defensive zone to gain consistent playing time. Look for the coaching staff to improve Bergfors overall game and for him to be a solid contributor.
The remaining signings are depth signings, with these players more than likely starting the season in Milwaukee. Stortini has a chance to stick with the Predators at the start of the season as a fourth line wing depending on his play in camp and the development of younger players or if the Predators sign additional forwards.
The focus for the Predators now shifts to signing stud defenseman Shea Weber. Weber is an RFA, and the Predators wisely filed for arbitration to keep other teams from being able to make an offer for his services. I believe that the Predators and Weber never get to arbitration. By freeing up cap space with some of their off season moves, the Predators now have the capacity to sign Weber to a longer term contract. There is some thought that Weber will sign a very short term deal and will test the market within a few years.
I don't believe that happens.
Weber is happy here in Nashville, and his role as Captain solidifies his position with the team. As long as the Predators continue to position the team to be a serious playoff contender, I think he will be satisfied playing in this market. Don't forget the fact that his playing partner, Ryan Suter, helps to elevate Weber's game, and going to another team takes that dimension away.
My view: Weber signs a deal in the five year range for $6-7 million per year.
So where does this leave the Predators for the upcoming season?
There will be the possibility for the team to still make some good offensive additions. Several teams are up against the cap and will have to get under before the season starts. Additionally, there will be some players that walk away from arbitration awards and will become available. Arb hearings will begin in late July and continue into August, and I expect to see some players become available after this process is underway. Because of the cleared cap space, the Predators will be in a position to make an offer for a player that fits their needs.
This also does not mean that the Predators are out of the trade market. The obvious bargaining chip for the team is the young D corp, but a trade there certainly has to have long term benefits. Several teams are still in the market for a depth defenseman, and this situation favors the Predators.
In looking at the players have under contract, there is one other factor to consider: this is a young roster that has a lot of experience. Don't underestimate the effect of playing a full season in the NHL at a young age, as many of of forwards have done. The jump in experience usually translates into performance on the ice in the next season. For instance, Nick Spaling will turn 24 at the start of the upcoming season; Sergei Kostitsyn turned 24 near the end of last season; Colin Wilson will turn 22 early in this season; Niclas Bergfors turned 24 at the end of last season; and Patrick Hornqvist will turn 25 on January 1. These young players will mature not only physically, but on and off the ice as well. This maturity will hopefully translate into improved play in the upcoming season.
It's easy to get frustrated at the start of the free agency period and not see some big name signed to the roster. The truth is that the start of free agency is when the "stupid" money gets spent, money that many teams come to regret. And many times, these players added at that time do not generate the results that was expected at their signing. The fact in today's NHL is that teams that can draft well and develop their talent most often are successful in the long term.
Welcome to the "Predator Way".
That is not to say that the Preds want make some off season adds. I think they will.
When they do, you can be assured that it will be a player that can contribute at the right price. And the team will not pay "stupid" money to do this.