Assembling the 2010-11 Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators have said all the right things lately about remaining competitive on a limited budget, while wanting to push further into the playoffs in the years ahead. But given the number of players already under contract for next season, how much room do they really have to improve the team?

Follow after the jump as we examine the roster situation, and prospects for making personnel changes for the 2010-11 season...

Don't Expect Much Change In The Budget

To set the financial parameters for the team, we'll start with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's recent statement that he expects the salary cap to remain basically the same for next season. That implies a range from salary cap to floor of roughly $56.8 million to $40.8 million. The Nashville Predators, as a team that relies upon revenue sharing, have generally targeted a player budget of $4-5 million above the floor in recent years (CapGeek has them at $44.8M for 2009-10).

There was some discussion that if the team had made a deep playoff run, they could have used the profits to potentially re-sign defenseman Dan Hamhuis, but bowing out in the first round probably doesn't make enough of a difference there. Based on gate receipts during the regular season, I'd make an educated guess that the team earned somewhere between $0.75 million and $1.5 million from those playoff games. Interestingly, under the CBA, as playoff participants the Preds contributed 30% of the gate sales to league revenue sharing. You're welcome, Columbus.

Bottom line, I'm going to project a 2% bump in player salary budget, due to what I'm guessing will be a small rise in the salary cap (TV ratings for the playoffs have been strong so far, and it's a good bet that Bettman erred conservatively in his statement above, allowing for more "surprising good news" this summer). That would put next year's player budget at $45.7 million.

What's Already On The Books

The figures after each player represent 2010-11 salary, with bonuses included (per CapGeek).

Forwards: Martin Erat ($5.25M), Jason Arnott ($4.5M), David Legwand ($4.5M), J.P. Dumont ($4M), Steve Sullivan ($3.75M), Colin Wilson ($1.72M), Joel Ward ($1.5M), Jordin Tootoo ($1.15M), Nick Spaling ($875K), Marcel Goc ($775K), Jerred Smithson ($775K), Wade Belak ($575K), Cal O'Reilly ($575K).

Defense: Shea Weber ($4.5M), Ryan Suter ($3.5M), Kevin Klein ($1.35M), Alexander Sulzer ($700K)

Goal: Pekka Rinne ($2.8M)

That's 18 players at a total hit of $42.8 million, leaving $2.9 million to work with, and 4-5 spots left to fill.

Hmm....

Filling Out The Roster, On The Cheap

So here's GM David Poile's task: sign a backup goaltender, three defensemen, and a forward for less than $3 million. Far less than $3 million, actually, if you want to have any room to add talent at the Trade Deadline (like the acquisition of Denis Grebeshkov this year).

The opportunities to move salary off the roster in order to clear up room are few. The 5 highest-paid forwards all have No Trade Clauses, and moving Weber, Suter or Rinne is unthinkable at this point. That leaves the guys making less than $2 million each, so even if you moved them, you're not freeing up much salary.

Let's start with a couple moves we can probably agree on:

  1. Sign Francis Bouillon to a new contract. He made $750K last season, so could hopefully be retained for something close to that (let's say $850K).
  2. Sign Cody Franson - coming off his first season (albeit a pretty productive one), he'll probably cost $1M or more per year.

Oh yeah, and we can't forget Patric Hornqvist, can we? The only problem is that we're only up to 19 skaters and one goalie, with only $900K or so left to spend! It's going cost more than $2 million per season, and possibly something around $3 million (what Kris Versteeg got last summer from Chicago).

As mentioned above, all the high-price forwards have No Trade Clauses, so the only way one of those guys would be moved is if he himself wanted a fresh start somewhere else. Out of that bunch, the only guy I could even conceive of doing such a thing might be J.P. Dumont (due to his decreased role on the team), and I strongly emphasize the word might. By all appearances, J.P. genuinely likes living in Nashville (and who wouldn't?), making his home here with his young family year-round, and being one of the more active Preds when it comes to community activities.

There's no indication that Arnott or Sullivan are considering retirement this summer (nor should they), and let's face it, no team in the league would trade for Legwand's or Erat's contracts.

Once you get past the NTC's, I don't see much salary that could be moved without seriously impacting the effectiveness of the team, either. Joel Ward? Colin Wilson? Forget about it, the Preds can't let either of them go...

Outside of hoping for a larger boost to the NHL salary cap (every 2% could add roughly $1 million to the Preds' budget target), I think we're looking at the following:

  • Neither Dan Hamhuis or Denis Grebeshkov will be retained. Hopefully they can be dealt prior to July 1 for draft picks, as happened in the past with Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.
  • The backup goaltender will be a sub-$1 million guy who is either lacking NHL experience, or at the very end of his career.
  • A rotation of guys like Teemu Laakso, Nolan Yonkman, and maybe Jonathan Blum will get occasional work as the 7th d-man.

Is this good news? Bad news? It's hard to say at this point. The continuing development of Hornqvist and Wilson is probably the best hope for this team up front, but losing both Hamhuis and Grebeshkov on the blueline would present a major void to fill. With those two, Nashville had one of the deepest and most talented defense corps in the NHL (albeit only for a few games due to Grebs' injury). Without them, you're looking at relatively young players stepping into their roles. I was thrilled with Franson's rookie year, but taking on a larger role next season will be a challenge.

So, too, will be fitting Hornqvist's new salary into the budget without making another move.

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