The NHL’s window on free agency opened a little early this year, as the league granted players the opportunity to talk with interested clubs a few days prior to the July 1 date that opens the traditional financial floodgates.
The impact this may have is just speculation at this point, but I think we will see some of those big-name signings coming shortly after midnight, followed by dominoes that fall earlier than usual because so much groundwork has been laid.
The Predators have acknowledged through the drafting of four centers that the cupboards are bare organizationally in that position. Even re-signing Mike Ribeiro gives you three centers who will likely be gone in three years (Mike Fisher and Paul Gaustad). But drafted players are a few years away yet and the club will have one or two holes to fill up the middle tomorrow.
Also, Nashville needs a physical veteran defenseman to help mentor Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. Preferably from the left side. Someone with edge and grit would help address a void exposed by Chicago this past spring.
Johnny Oduya (CHI) – He’s 33 and has spent the last 3 1/2 years with Chicago, gaining valuable Stanley Cup winning experience along the way. Signed a 3-year $10.125M extension with Chicago after being acquired from Winnipeg in a trade. The left hand shot/veteran D-man fits the profile for someone to pair with Seth Jones and continue his development. Nine goals and 43 points shows he can contribute offensively and perhaps fill in second PP unit if needed.
Zbynek Michalek (STL) – A shot-blocking machine the Preds haven’t had since the likes of Greg Zanon. Michalek is also a veteran presence and while I am slightly concerned about the durability of a shot-blocker, Michalek can help the Preds kill penalties and keep the puck out of its own net, something that sank them against Chicago in the first round.
Barrett Jackman (STL) – Jackman is a stay-at-home defender who plays hard and would pair well with Jones if you concede that this is your 5/6 this year, and Ekholm and Ellis are the 3/4. Nashville isn’t a physical team and while they don’t have to beat teams in the alley, having Jackman’s leadership and toughness on the bench makes teams think twice about doing something stupid. Let’s face it, Angry Shea scares the crap out of people but he’s far more effective out of the box than in it.
Francois Beauchemin (ANH) – Solid all-around defender who is 35 this year. Has some sandpaper, a heavy shot, and knows what it takes to lift the Stanley Cup. Leadership credentials would be great for the Preds as would his vast experience to help the younger developing D-men.
- Mike Green – Most overrated D of his generation. Offensive production at the cost of defending is not what Nashville needs.
- Christian Ehrhoff – Declining results in recent years haven’t helped his stock, no real physical game.
- Paul Martin – Quality player but not for the likely asking price.
Mike Ribeiro (NSH) – While it’s odd to put your own team’s player up here, Ribeiro is likely dipping his entire body in the free agency pool right now because this is his last shot at a good contract. Rumors have the Preds and Ribeiro $1M apart over a two-year span, with Nashville having supposedly offered 2 years at $3M per. While I don’t believe 100% of anything I hear because one side or the other has to leak that info (likely Ribeiro’s agent in this case to determine market value this week) there’s a lot here that bothers me. No one wanted Ribeiro last year – in fact he called Nashville and asked for a chance. David Poile said yes and was rewarded. Ribeiro did and said all the right things about loving Nashville, his family loved it here, he was in counseling, etc. His salary last year at just over $1M was a prove-it situation and on the ice things went pretty well. Previously Ribeiro was a $4-4.5M guy and appears to want to get back to that again. But he’s 35 now, and I’ve never seen a player get better after that age. Nashville won only nine of its last 27 games and over that stretch Ribeiro scored three times and totaled 11 points with a -7 rating. Not exactly a clutch run in the stretch when the team needed someone to lead them the most.
Like it or not, the baggage that followed him out of Dallas and reared its ugly head in Phoenix has surfaced again in court documents from a civil lawsuit that is pending.
People deserve second chances and Mike got one. Saying you’re past something is great, showing it is even better, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there hanging over your head as a distraction. This is a bit of a game of chicken and while there are those saying $1M shouldn’t break this deal from the Preds standpoint, it shouldn’t from Ribeiro’s either if he is sincere about being grateful to the organization for allowing his hockey career to continue. Love it here Mike? Prove it. Sign the deal and make it work.
I can’t argue with a player trying to max out his last shot at getting paid, and I don’t hold anything against him for trying. But the grass isn’t always greener, and indeed everywhere else but Nashville might be concrete.
Finally, how bad do you want to win? If you don’t care, listen to offers from the teams that can afford your demands. Otherwise know you’ll have to take a little less as part of a team with a legit shot at a title.
Antoine Vermette (CHI) – Vermette got off to a terrible start with Chicago and found himself in head coach Joel Quenville’s doghouse even in the playoffs. But he did come through with a couple of game-winning goals in the clutch and catapulted his value right back to the top of the list.
I’d love to see what a line of Vermette centering Neal and Forsberg would look like, especially if Vermette doesn’t float as we’ve seen at times in his career. Maybe playing in the desert didn’t spark his desire as much as Chicago, but if that’s a question I’m not sure Nashville is the best landing pad. Still probably the best center available.
Brad Richards (CHI) – If you lose Ribeiro I go after Richards for a two-year deal as a second line center. He can still be effective as a veteran and turned out to be a steal for Chicago last year. Also carries some negatives but does have two Stanley Cup rings. Chicago might only be able to offer a one-year deal or low money, and there’s no way they keep both Vermette and Richards… and may lose both.
Shawn Matthias (VAN) – If you decide that Fisher is your 2C this year and Ribeiro/Vermette/Richards is your 1C, this is the guy I’d grab to compete with Calle Jarnkrok. He’s big and put up 18 goals last year. While not the most physical big man he’s probably a relative bargain at somewhere around $2-3M+/yr.
Eric Fehr (WSH) – Probably 15-20 goals a year and can play wing or center making him an ideal position player on the third line, slotting in on the second when injuries hit or dropping to fourth when things need a shake. Wouldn’t be too expensive either. Again, a guy I chase if you decide Fisher is your #2 center.
Chris Stewart (MIN) – I wanted him to bolster this year’s team at the deadline instead of the Franson/Santorelli trade and Nashville showed how little grit it had in the Chicago series. Motivation has always been a question for him but I feel that Laviolette could get more out of him. At the very least he would run into things more often than not – I’m looking at you Colin Wilson.
Vincent Lecavalier (PHI) – There’s history for Vinny with current Preds head coach Peter Laviolette, who lobbied for him previously. Preds definitely need a center or two (depending on Mike Ribeiro situation) and drafted accordingly. He would give Jarnkrok another year to mature and come along, but now you’ve gotten pretty old up the middle in a hurry. I’d rather see the Preds go younger but as a one-year bandaid it might work.
Michael Frolik (WPG) – At 27 he’s a two-way winger who can kill penalties and still put up some points. I actually would take him over some of the players Nashville qualified but the question for Frolik is having qualified Gabby Bourque and Taylor Beck where does he fit? There’s not a lot of room for wingers right now.
Martin St. Louis (NYR) – I’d love to see him here but this is wishful thinking. He’s 40 and will want as close to a guaranteed kick at the can as possible. Nashville has the money to grab him but it’s a short term solution. Plus, which Preds team do you think is the real one: The first half, or the second half? Huge question that’s tough to answer.
- Matt Beleskey – A guy who is going to cash in on having one good year playing with Getzlaf and Perry. Short of him going to Pittsburgh or Chicago, good luck getting anything near the production he put up last year.
- Mike Richards – Preds have a lot of guys like this and although none have rings like he does, they can’t afford to bury a guy in the minors.
- Joel Ward – Recycling Franson and Santorelli was a bad idea. This would be too. He’s an awesome guy, but his speed is getting worse. Has great hands we see on occasion but not often enough. Preds have a history of overpaying for the past. Stop that. Stop it right now.
RFA’s and Offer Sheets
Offer sheets are a dirty word in the NHL but there’s a few cases to be made for throwing them out there, and just as many tales of success as failure on both sides. It’s dicey either way so there’s only a few guys I’d take the risk on.
Brandon Saad (CHI) – Saad is young and has not shown any signs of slowing his growth. This year’s Stanley Cup run only served to up his payday. Chicago’s problem is that they want to keep him, but can they?
Mikael Granlund (MIN) – I see a lot of upside with this guy and think he’ll be a consistent 50-60 point center in a few years. Just 23, I think he finally figured out both sides of the rink this season going from -3 to +17 without his scoring suffering. Could be a great #2 center if you install Ribeiro in the top slot and would be your heir-apparent in that spot.
Brock Nelson (NYI) – Another 23-year-old center who I see big things for, perhaps you lump him into an Okposo trade deal and really shake the trees. Half of his 20 goals were on the power play and he hit the 40-point plateau as well. I like his size at 6-3, 205 lbs. and his plus/minus also improved tremendously this year from -6 to +10.
The moral of the story here is if you’re going, go big. Get an impact player for the next several years.
Some guys you have to just go and get. Here’s one or two names I’ve seen on the wire:
Evgeny Malkin (PIT) – While I’d love to have him here with James Neal and, well, anyone… Geno won’t come cheap. The asking price from Pittsburgh might not be worth it but the Preds and Pens are familiar trade partners. Would solve quite a few problems up front immediately.
Joe Thornton (SJS) – If only Jumbo had the Preds on his list of teams to come play for, I would bring him in. Realistically Nashville has a three-year window to make its run with Rinne in net and Weber in his prime. Thornton could distribute the puck and might be the one guy who gets Neal back to 40 goals or Forsberg to 30+. While the Sharks have been stubborn about doing any sort of tear-down this is the one guy I’d want and would consider trading any D not named Weber, Josi or Jones to get him.
Kevin Shattenkirk (STL) – It’s a matter of debate as to whether he’s available or not but his name was circulated at the draft. St. Louis has a lot of money tied up in Jay Bouwmeester and rumor has it Shattenkirk doesn’t fit because of that. I’d rather have him than Bouwmeester at even money and he would make the Preds blueline immediately better. The price to be paid to a division rival might be too much.
Jeff Skinner (CAR) – He’s 23 and makes south of $6M a year. He also has a bit of an injury history. But he is a gifted scorer with tremendous upside and could come here and just kill it with other skill players. If the ‘Canes are really looking to clean a bit of house, he’s one guy I’d want. The other is…
Eric Staal (CAR) – Your new #1 center. Carolina is likely to extend him shortly so don’t hold your breath, but in a perfect Preds world he’s the guy.
Kyle Okposo (NYI) – Hey Garth, want Colin Wilson? Done. Wilson had a good season numbers-wise and if you didn’t watch him every game you won’t notice the glaring defensive issues or stretches of time where he disappears completely. Or that for a big, strong winger he rarely plays motivated enough to win strength battles in which he should come out on top. Okposo isn’t perfect but I’d grab his jam and scoring for this team in a heartbeat.
- Kevin Bieksa – While he’s 34 and comes with a $4M+ price with one year remaining on his deal, I feel like his game is declining and this might be the year it falls off the cliff. Maybe not, and with an expiring contract you can always move him. But I just have this little nagging doubt in the back of my mind saying to be wary here.
- Phil Kessel – You don’t need a wing like Kessel who, while a scoring threat, is expensive (even with relief) and could take over a room in a negative way. Would he have an easier time disappearing in Nashville? Yes. Would it change who he is? No.
- Dion Phaneuf – Just too expensive. Would love the player, not the contract.
- Patrick Sharp – Four years ago I would have done this deal. Maybe even two years ago. But not now. He’s a handful and one of those guys who I think puts up better numbers because other teams have to watch guys named Kane and Toews.