Friday, July 5, 2013

Predators Add Five in Free Agency and What It Means For the Team

The Nashville Predators have not usually been active in free agency, but they broke their pattern at the start of the 2013 free agency frenzy, signing five players that will change the look of this team.

The Predators signed Viktor Stalberg from the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4 year, $12 million contract that will pay Stalberg $2.5 million in each of the first two years and $3.5 million in years three and four.

Matt Cullen was signed to a two year, $7 million contract that pays $3 million in the first year and $4 million in the second year. Cullen played with the  Minnesota Wild last year.

Matt Hendricks was signed to a 4 year, $7.4 million contract that pays $1.85 million each year. Hendricks was originally drafted by the Predators in the 2000 Entry Draft in the 5th round and was on the Washington Capitals roster last season.

Eric Nystrom was signed to a 4 year, $10 million contract that will pay him $2 million in each of the first two years and $3 million in the last two years. Nystrom was with the Dallas Stars last year.

With the Predators not re-signing Chris Mason, the team was in need of a back up goaltender. They signed Carter Hutton from the Chicago Blackhawks system to a one year, two way contract that pays him $550,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL level. Hutton appeared in one game for the Blackhawks last season, and posted a 26-22-1 record for the Hawks AHL affiliate in Rockford. Hutton had a .908 save % and a 2.72 GAA last year for the Icehogs.

So what are we to make of these signings?

When the Predators parted ways with Marty Erat, they lost their leading scorer, a talented and somewhat enigmatic winger who was a streaky scorer. There was no doubt that the team needed to replace and hopefully improve upon his scoring and talent.

In Stalberg, the Predators get... a talented and somewhat enigmatic winger that has shown flashes of potential but lacked consistency with the Hawks. Stalberg brings speed, which the Predators love and that a player has to have to play for this team, and the potential for offensive upside. Stalberg at times seemed to get lost in the shuffle with the talent of the Hawks, and saw the ice only 14 minutes a game on average. If he plays the same minutes that Erat played (nearly 19 minutes a game), one would have to believe that his production would increase. Stalberg brings an explosiveness to the forwards that the Predators have lacked for the most. Channeling that explosiveness and talent will be a challenge for Stalberg and for the coaching staff.

The Predators will give Stalberg every opportunity to settle into a top six role on the wing, and hopefully Stalberg will seize upon the chance to play a much bigger role with this team. If- and the jury is still out- Stalberg plays to his skill set and the potential that he has shown, this can be a significant add for the Predators. It will be interesting to see how he meshes with the other players on the Predators roster and the coaches. The adaptation to the Predators system should not be much of a challenge as the Blackhawks play a similar system to the Predators.

With the addition of Cullen, the Predators added a player that immediately becomes the most veteran player on the roster. Cullen has played in 1,073 regular season games in his career. Cullen adds a veteran presence to a squad that has a number of young forwards, and that experience will be good both on and off the ice. Cullen is good in the face off dot, winning 53% of his draws, a while he will not score a number of goals, he will add a solid presence in the offensive and defensive zone. Cullen provides experienced depth at center, something that the Predators need.

Matt Hendricks returns to the team that originally drafted him, and is another depth addition to the Predators roster. Hendricks has not been a prolific scorer but has surprisingly shown himself to be adept at shootouts, something the Predators need. Hendricks adds some size and grit to the Predators roster of forwards and is another player that is solid in all zones. Hendricks is durable, steady, and tough to play against.

Eric Nystrom brings grit and toughness to the forward corps of the Predators. Outside of Rich Clune this past season, this was something the Predators sorely lacked. Nystrom is certainly not going to add scoring, but he has been signed to be an agitator and a disruptor, roles that he can fill very well.

Carter Hutton is a project for Mitch Korn, the Predators goaltending coach. Hutton has the tools and potential to be good, and it will be up to Korn to develop him into a quality NHL goaltender. I have faith that Korn can do this, and the addition of Hutton gives the Predators the luxury of being patient with Magnus Hellberg, their netminder in Milwaukee. The Predators are high on Hellberg, but don't want to rush him into the backup role. The addition of Hutton sets up some serious competition for the role of backup to Pekka Rinne, and it will be interesting to see which of these young netminders can and will rise to the occasion.

So, the question still remains.

What are we to make of these signings?

Three things come to mind.

Potential, personality, and physicality.

The addition of Stalberg gives the Predators a potentially explosive an game changing top 6 forward. This is a change- a dramatic change- from the current composition of the forwards on the team. With the exception of Colin Wilson and the wildly erratic Craig Smith, the Predators have lacked the talented forward that can skate AND score. The question for the Predators and for Stalberg is can he fulfill that potential. if he can blossom into the player that can consistently be an offensive threat, then both sides win. This is the opportunity for Stalberg to be the offensive star on a team that desperately needs offensive stars.

Additionally, these free agent acquisitions set up the potential for additional roster moves. The Predators have already begun to re-shape their roster by releasing Brandon Yip and Mat Halischuk from the group of forwards that were on last season's roster. Jonathan Blum is gone from the blue line. With the addition of this depth, and with several talented youngsters waiting in the wings, there could be some additional roster moves via trade. It would not be surprising to see the Predators make trades to bolster the roster. These additions insure that there will be serious competition for roster spots, and that will be good for the team.

The personality of this team has also changed. The veteran presence of these additions will be a benefit to the locker room and especially to some of the younger players. The existing veteran leadership core will be augmented by proven veterans that are now on the roster. That experience in other programs will provide a fresh perspective and the proven voices of players that have been successful in the League. This is not only good for the players, but the coaches as well.

There was no doubt that the Predators needed to get tougher. The addition of Hendricks and especially Nystrom provide an element of physicality that makes the Predators a tougher team to play against. Adding the size and grit is a plus for a team that lacked both elements with their forwards last season.

The Predators did not pull off a mega trade, but they quietly made some very good additions to the roster that will change the face and character of this team.

And it will be for the better.

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