"It was hard for us to understand,'' Winter said. "Jan was prepared to take less money to come back than to sign (in Sweden). But the Predators never really got anywhere close to the kind of offer you'd expect for a player that's accomplished what he has. It's too bad because it really looked like he had good chemistry with the coaches and players there.''Supposedly Hlavac was looking for something around $1 million, while Nashville offered up Jerred Smithson-type money ($740K). Did Poile really let a potential 2nd-line winger walk over a mere $250,000 in negotiation? Are the small-market Predators that cash-constrained that they can't afford even a bargain-basement veteran to fill a Top Six spot?
Frankly, I don't think so. With the Predators having acknowledged talks with the agents for Glen Murray and Mark Parrish, while also pursuing trade opportunities, it looks like the two open forward positions up front will be filled by the Swedish prospect Patric Hornqvist and a moderately-priced veteran. Hlavac is simply falling victim to a numbers game, similar to the one that is keeping the team from bringing back Martin Gelinas.
Granted, I've said more than once in this space that I'd like to see Hlavac return to play alongside David Legwand, with another veteran brought in for Arnott's line. If you look at a potential 23-man active roster for the upcoming season, however, most of the pieces appear to be falling into place, assuming Hornqvist wins a spot and one scoring winger is obtained prior to camp:
Goalies (2): Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne
Defense (7): Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis, Greg de Vries, Greg Zanon, Ville Koistinen, Kevin Klein.
Forwards (14): Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont, David Legwand, Martin Erat, Radek Bonk, Jerred Smithson, Jed Ortmeyer, Scott Nichol, Vern Fiddler, Jordin Tootoo, Josh Gratton, Patric Hornqvist, [Mystery Sniper].
Notice I've only listed 13 forwards; I would think at this point that we'll see a split at #14 between Rich Peverley, Antti Pihlstrom, and perhaps Ryan Jones, as they are brought up from Milwaukee at various times as needed.
All in all, it looks like a very similar squad to last year's; strong down the middle and on the blue line, but with questionable depth on the wings and a first-time #1 goaltender settling in between the pipes. While the local ownership and front office management can celebrate the fact that they've re-upped all the key RFA's to long-term contracts, and have some enticing prospects in the developmental pipeline, until we see an impact player obtained via trade or free agency it's hard to make the case that any progress has been made in terms of competitiveness in the here and now, the 2008-9 NHL season. The cause for hope is built on the fact that most of this team is made up of young players entering their prime years, so improvement by individuals could lead to a better overall team result. Certainly if Shea Weber can avoid the injury bug that would help, but all teams face injury during the course of an NHL season, it was just Weber's turn last year.
So please, Mr. Poile, wow us with a pickup sometime in the next few weeks. By letting Jan Hlavac walk, it's apparent that making a move to sign him immediately wasn't as attractive as checking out what else is available on the market as training camps prepare to open.
There are some decent free agent options out there (Murray and Parish), and teams which need to either shed or pick up additional salary in order to conform to salary cap rules. Nashville would seem to be in an envious position from a buyer's perspective; the best deals are often made when your trading partner simply has to make a trade, and a few such opportunities might be on offer over the coming weeks.