The end of the season is still fresh for the Nashville Predators, but the offseason quickly approaches. Players have already gone their separate ways following “locker room clean-out day” last Saturday, and General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Peter Laviolette addressed the media on Wednesday. The 2015-16 season was the most successful season in Nashville’s history, which means that expectations will certainly be high for the 2016-17 season.
While it’s early, MyTopSportsbooks.com have set the Predators with 15/1 odds for next season’s Stanley Cup. This past season has shown that the Nashville Predators have a lot of the right pieces in place to make a deep run next season. Overall, the team was very young, but able to be successful. For the playoffs, the team was icing four rookies (Viktor Arvidsson, Miikka Salomaki, Anthony Bitetto, Colton Sissons) and two players (Filip Forsberg & Calle Jarnkrok) in only their second full season. During the regular season, there were a few games that Nashville played five or even six rookies. The experience that the young players gained by playing in 14 playoff games, including four elimination games, will only help the team in the next season.
There won’t be many changes needed to the team in the offseason, but there are still a few tweaks that can make the Predators even better for the 2016-17 season and beyond.
1. Priority signings
It’s obvious that the priority signing for David Poile this offseason will be Filip Forsberg. Forsberg is coming off of his entry-level contract and will be a Restricted Free Agent. This means the Nashville Predators have exclusive negotiating rights with him. Following two stellar seasons to begin his career where he posted 63 and 64 points, Forsberg and Poile won’t be looking for a bridge contract. This is the kind of player that needs to be signed long-term. Forsberg had a less-than-stellar playoff performance, which could be attributed to an apparent back injury, but it shouldn’t cause a drop in what he will make. Look for Forsberg to get a deal of at least five or six years and worth at least $5.75 million.
Another roster player that should be re-signed is Calle Jarnkrok. Jarnkrok quietly posted 30 points (16G-14A) in the 2015-16 season, where he showed that he could play on any line. Jarnkrok is a versatile player that can play center or on the wing, so having him remain with the team is a must.
In regards to depth in the organization, a good amount of players will most likely not be getting re-signed as the Predators have recently signed prospects Alexandre Carrier, Anthony Richard, Justin Kirkland and Jack Dougherty. Players that still have more to give to the organization and that should be considered for contracts are, in my opinion: Garrett Noonan, Stefan Elliott, Corey Potter, Marek Mazanec and Cody Bass. It’s not to say that those players would see much time in Nashville next season, but they add depth to the organization. Players like Potter and Bass add some experience as well.
Following David Poile and Peter Laviolette’s press conference on Wednesday, Poile made it clear that contract talks are under way with Filip Forsberg and that he intends to re-sign Calle Jarnkrok and Cody Bass. He also stated that the team will not re-sign Paul Gaustad and that they will look to trade or potentially buyout Eric Nystom.
The saying goes “addition by subtraction,” and that’s what using two buyouts could definitely do this offseason.
Eric Nystrom, while a great presence in the locker room and having veteran leadership with the team, has pretty much been passed over by far younger talent. Even though this past season what very short (46 games) thanks in most part to injury, players like Miikka Salomaki and Austin Watson can play the same role he does, and at a lesser cost. Nystrom currently has one year left on his contract where he’s set to make $3 million with a cap hit of $2.5 million. Using a buyout on him would free up a roster spot for a player that would be playing that role anyway.
Another buyout that many fans will be calling for, but may not happen, will be Mike Ribeiro. The center found a home in Nashville last season after being bought out by the Arizona Coyotes. Last season, Ribeiro posted 62 points, while only putting up 50 in 2015-16. Scoring 50 points is by no means underperforming, especially with the addition of Ryan Johansen, but it’s Ribeiro’s playoff performance that earned him two healthy scratches and only two assists in 12 games. Ribeiro is set to earn $3.5 million next season, the last of his contract, with a cap hit of the same. This one is less likely, but don’t put it past Nashville to move on after a lackluster playoff performance.
Poile stated that Ribeiro will have to earn his way back into the top six during camp and will have to have the “summer of his life” in preparation for the upcoming season.
3. Goalie needs
As stated earlier, the Nashville Predators need to re-sign Marek Mazanec. Mazanec may not be the inherent goalie in waiting to fill Pekka Rinne’s void in a few years, but he still provides depth in Milwaukee. Along with Mazanec, Nashville needs to sign Carter Hutton to a one-year deal if he is willing to do so. According to David Poile in his press conference, the team and Hutton are already in talks on a contract.
Juuse Saros had a tremendous first season in North America with the Milwaukee Admirals, posting 29 wins and only 8 losses. Couple those wins with a .920 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, it’s no wonder he’s Admirals Roundtable’s Rookie of the Year. That being said, you don’t bring up your next stud goaltender to be a back-up in the NHL when Pekka Rinne will still be playing in at least 65 games next season. Thus, there is the importance to re-sign Carter Hutton.
If allowed to enter free agency, Hutton will no doubt field offers to be a back-up for others teams that will guarantee him more playing time than what he’s had in Nashville. If the opportunity is there to re-sign Hutton, take it. There aren’t many NHL back-up goaltenders that will sign for less than $1 million. Getting Hutton on a one-year contract, and hopefully playing him a little more, gives Saros another year to grow in Milwaukee along with Rinne another year to not have to fear for his job.
4. Draft priorities
The Nashville Predators have the 17th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. This year’s draft isn’t anywhere near as deep as last season’s, but it will still have a wealth of talent in the first and second rounds. Over the past few seasons, the Predators have had a focus on offense and players that could have a bright future down the middle for the organization. In the 2015 NHL Draft, Nashville used four of its seven picks on centers.
A few defensemen with good potential have also been picked, such as Alexandre Carrier and Jack Dougherty, but the organization really needs more good defensive talent in the system. When you look at the defensive depth, there is a tremendous fall-off after the top six in Nashville and into Milwaukee. Taylor Aronson has left the team and another call-up, Corey Potter, isn’t a prospect as he’s 32. On the offensive side, it’s easy to see how much time has been spent to cultivate goal-scoring for the organization: Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg, Vladislav Kamenev and yes, Jimmy Vesey.
That being said, the first round pick for Nashville should be used on a defenseman. Based on the latest ISS Hockey Top 30, there should be a good amount of defenseman available at the time the Predators pick. Three names that stand out to me are Jake Bean, Dante Fabbro and Logan Stanley.
5. Free agency
For the first time since the franchise was born, the organization isn’t in desperate need of a number-one center. They have him now in Ryan Johansen. As always, there are still a few tweaks that could make the Predators a more dangerous team next season.
A piece that would solidify the top six for Nashville would be the addition of another winger. It’s not to say that Calle Jarnkrok or Viktor Arvidsson can’t fill a role on the top six when needed, it’s just that getting a proven scorer would be more beneficial. Then, Jarnkrok and Arvidsson can help make for a dangerous third line.
Names like Kyle Okposo and Loui Eriksson have been thrown around by some in Nashville. Those two would be good additions to the team via free agency. As we all know, the Predators don’t have the best history in attracting free agents, but after the playoff run this season as well as the talent on the roster now, Nashville should be a fairly attractive destination for a player looking to have a solid chance at winning a Stanley Cup in the next two to three seasons.
Here are a few wingers that could fit within the price range that Nashville could spend along with their quick hits on their stats:
Four 50+ point seasons out of eight pro seasons
2015-16: 22 goals, 42 assists in 79 games
2015-16 Playoffs: 2 goals, 6 assists in 11 games
Previous contract: 5 years, $14 million, $2.8 million cap hit
Five 60+ point seasons out of nine full pro seasons (Including three 70+ point seasons)
2015-16: 30 goals, 33 assists in 82 games
Previous contract: 6 years, $25.5 million, $4.25 million cap hit
466 points in 769 games
2015-16: 25 goals, 21 assists in 78 games
2015-16 Playoffs: 1 goal, 1 assist in 7 games
Previous contract: 5 years, $22 million, $4.4 million cap hit
Seven 40+ point seasons – 63 points in 2014-15
2015-16: 13 goals, 14 assists in 63 games
Previous contract: 2 years, $10 million, $5 million cap hit
Based on age, production and potential salary that would fit within Nashville’s budget, the top targets for Nashville should be Kyle Okposo and Loui Eriksson. While David Poile stated that he’s happy with the team as it is, he’s always looking for ways to improve it. Adding one of those wingers could do that.
Those are just a few things that the offseason may hold for the Nashville Predators. Be sure to follow along for in-depth draft coverage in June and more during development camp in July. What are your thoughts on these tasks? Comment below and let us know what you think!
Photo credit: Christina McCullough