Decision time is nearing for the Nashville Predators with June quickly approaching. While the end of the NHL season is coming to a close within the next couple of weeks, teams still have lots of decisions to make when it comes to the draft, qualifying restricted free agents and signing free agents by July 1st.
Currently, Nashville only has five forwards from last season’s squad under contract. This means that General Manager David Poile has a lot of work to do and decisions to make in the next month. The core of the blue line is set with six defensemen under contract through next season, although there has been talk of bringing Anton Volchenkov back.
All of this being said, the Nashville Predators have needs to fill this offseason. While these are not bold predictions, here are a few thoughts on what could or should happen in the next couple of months.
1. Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro both re-sign
During the end of the year media availability, David Poile and each player expressed high interest in re-signing in Nashville. For the 2015-16 season, the Predators currently have $28.6 million in cap space according to General Fanager. Even with multiple players left to sign, there is plenty of flexibility in getting deals done for both players.
Previously, Mike Fisher was under a two-year contract worth $4.2 million per year. Can the Predators match this? Most likely, but they probably won’t need to. All signs should point to Fisher taking a hometown discount in his next contract. He and his wife recently celebrated the birth of their son in Nashville, and his career is beginning to wind down. In coming back from injury this past season, Fisher also proved that he still has plenty of gas left in him, ranking seventh on the team in scoring with 39 points (19G-20A). Expect a one or two year deal worth around $3.5 million.
Mike Ribeiro was able to start fresh in Nashville last season as he sought out Poile with interest in signing with the Predators. Last season, Ribeiro made $1.05 million and is still being paid by Arizona in his buyout. With being second in scoring on the team at 62 points (15G-47A), the gifted playmaker is certainly due a pay raise based on his performance. Ribeiro flourished in new surroundings, and being out of the media spotlight surely helped his family life as well. The 35 year old center proved he still has what it takes to play at a high level, so expect a two year deal worth between $3 and $4 million.
2. A goalie and a prospect/pick are traded to move up in the draft
Earlier in the month, the Nashville Predators, along with the Milwaukee Admirals, made two signings that may have shed some light on the future of goalies in the system. On May 6th, the Predators signed Marek Mazanec to a one-year, two-way contract. Then, on May 7th, the Milwaukee Admirals signed Brandon Whitney to a two-year contract. This brings into question of what will happen with Magnus Hellberg, who is set to become a restricted free agent. There’s also the question of whether prospect Juuse Saros will make the jump to North America or not. Whitney could also be set to play in Cincinnati, too. Either way, there is a logjam of goaltenders now in the system for Nashville.
All of that being said, with Nashville’s first round pick now belonging to Toronto due to the trade for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, the Predators aren’t set to have their first pick in the draft until the late in the second round. With this year’s draft being considered a generational draft, the first two rounds will be loaded with high potential players.
When asked about acquiring another pick in the draft, Poile is feeling pressure from the scouts to find a way to move up.
“[The scouts], of course, are a little disappointed that we don’t have our first round pick so they’re putting pressure on to see if I can get that at the draft,” said Poile. “Maybe we can come up with an extra pick along the way…”
That being said, there is some wiggle room for the organization in regards to goalies. They could package a player such as Hellberg, their current second round pick and a lower end prospect to move up in the second round. This would give them a player that, in most draft years, would easily be a first round pick. Poile also mentioned that the prospect rankings for the Predators most likely differ from many other teams in that the player they may have ranked 20th could be available in the second round.
It’s unlikely that Nashville makes another major draft day trade like last year, but it’s very likely they make a move to either move up in the draft or acquire more picks.
3. A high pick is used to draft a defenseman
In the past, it almost became habit for the Predators to always draft defensemen with their high picks. Now, the defensive corps is solid and under contract for multiple years. Lately, Nashville has been able to stock up on offensive potential with the likes of Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and more. There is finally some depth on scoring potential in the organization. So what’s missing?
Even though the blueline is set for multiple years, the depth really drops off after the fifth defenseman. Milwaukee has some solid defenders, but are any of them ready to make the jump to a full time NHL role in the next year? That is unlikely. Anthony Bitteto spent seven games with Nashville last season and could be a decent sixth or seventh defenseman. There is potential with Jonathan Diaby and Garrett Noonan, but both spent time up and down between Milwaukee and Cincinnati last season. They’re both a few years away.
At most, the defensemen currently in Milwaukee could fill the six or seven spot on defense, but for the organization to stay strong for many years down the road, it’s time to replenish on defense with a good prospect that is two to three years away. With this year’s draft, NHL’s Central Scouting has multiple defensemen ranked for early to midway through the second round. Not only would drafting a defenseman in the second round be worth it for the future, but it could also create future trade opportunities when the team makes another run for the Cup.
One defenseman that stands out is Mitchell Vande Sompel of the Oshawa Generals, who are set to play in the Memorial Cup championship game on Sunday. Vande Sompel is currently ranked 34th in NHL’s Central Scouting, and in seeing the 5’10” defenseman back in the fall, his vision in play making is remarkable. In 58 regular season games this season for the Generals, Vande Sompel tallied 63 points (12G-51A) from the blue line. It’s not likely that he’d be available later in the second round, so the Predators could move up to take him.
If Nashville were to not move up, another good defenseman from the OHL is Travis Dermott of the Erie Otters. Central Scouting has him ranked 46th and is a solid, two-way defenseman that still put up 45 points (8G-37A) in 61 games for a stacked Otters team.
4. One of Taylor Beck or Gabriel Bourque will not return
When a team has talent waiting in the wings like the Predators do, some decision will need to be made in regards to restricted free agents up for contracts. Out of the bottom six forwards, one of Taylor Beck and Gabriel Bourque will most likely not return. It’s not a money issue, it’s about opportunity. Nashville already added another forward to the mix in the signing of Steve Moses, who will also compete for a role with the big club.
One player that could fill a void, and deserves an opportunity, is Miikka Salomaki. Registering a goal in his only NHL game last season, Salomaki is ready for the big leagues. Sidelined by injury for the second half of last season, he still put up 19 points (7G-12A) in 38 games for the Milwaukee Admirals. Salomaki is a bruising forward that plays with high energy and is built like a tank. He could be a great contributor in the bottom six as well as contribute offensively.
So there you have it. They could be way off base or exactly what you’re thinking. There are obviously other needs and re-signings for the team as they continue to build under head coach Peter Laviolette. So what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.
Header photo courtesy of Christina McCullough.