With Joel Ward and Steve Sullivan signed to new contracts, Predators fans are left wondering whether David Poile has any further shopping left to do. There were rumblings about interest in Brian Gionta (who went to Montreal for $5MM/year) and "he who shall not be named" even threw out the ridiculous notion that the Preds were looking at Marian Gaborik (who went to New York for $7.5MM/year). Sorry, but that's as absurd as the "Ovechkin to the Preds" rumor that got floated just before Ovi signed his long-term contract in Washington.
Ruling out those "shoot the moon" scenarios, then, how does the roster shape up so far, what holes are left to be filled, and how much money does Poile have left to spend? Let's take a look after the jump...
Per CapGeek.com, here's what the Preds have under contract, along with some cells in green which represent hypothetical situations such as a depth defenseman added for $1 million, and Ryan Jones re-signing as a restricted free agent for $1.1 million next season:
|Steve Sullivan||Jason Arnott||J.P. Dumont|
|Patric Hornqvist||David Legwand||Martin Erat|
|Joel Ward||Cal O'Reilly||Ryan Jones|
|Wade Belak||Jerred Smithson||Jordin Tootoo|
|Ryan Suter||Shea Weber|
|Dan Hamhuis||Kevin Klein|
|Alexander Sulzer||Cody Franson|
|Team Total||$44.845 million|
Poile has publicly mentioned a salary budget around last year's level, so $44-45 million is right about where we should expect the team to operate, and this table only includes 21 players. Realistically they'll need 2-3 more to round things out (23 active, figure one more injured at a given time).
In other words, outside of getting the RFA's re-signed and perhaps adding a cheap defenseman for 3rd-pair and PK work, this pretty much looks like the Nashville roster for the start of next season (I'm assuming Colin Wilson spends at least a while in Milwaukee).
And you know what? I like it. This looks to be a better team than what broke camp last year. Having Sullivan and Ward available in significant roles right from the start of the season is a big bonus compared to the fall of 2008. Instead of hoping that guys like Hornqvist and Jones would produce on the 1st and 2nd lines as rookies, now they (or perhaps Antti Pihlstrom) are slotted for 2nd/3rd line duty, and have another year of experience and development behind them.
On defense, I would put Nashville's top 3 of Suter, Weber and Hamhuis up against just about anyone in the league (perhaps only behind Lidstrom/Rafalski/Kronwall in Detroit). The question will be whether Kevin Klein is ready to take the next step and assume a steady role on the 2nd unit, and how Sulzer & Franson will fare in limited action.
Goaltending is the least of the Preds' concerns, at the price paid this should be the bargain of the NHL.
To me, the most interesting portion of the team will be that 3rd line - one thing David Poile mentions in the media session below (particularly starting at the 8:00 mark) is that Joel Ward can be used as a bit of a safety blanket on a line with some younger guys, taking care of things defensively for them. I could really see a combo like O'Reilly/Jones supported by Ward staying relatively high in the offensive zone.
The cost for making room for the young guys, however, is the departure of older players like Greg de Vries, Greg Zanon, Vern Fiddler, and likely Scott Nichol as well. The modern NHL system dictates squeezing the most performance out of every salary dollar spent, and that means lots of kids on their 1st or 2nd contract. Will they rise to the task?