July 1st (Thursday) is the opening of the National Hockey League's free agent frenzy, and after the Jason Arnott/Dan Hamhuis trades, its expected that the Nashville Predators will be more active than in past years thanks to several salaries being cleared from the books.
After the jump, assessing where the Preds stand in regards to cap and roster space, budget, and who they might target come Thursday.
All financial and contractual information is via the fantastic CapGeek.com.
Pending Unrestricted Free Agents
Dustin Boyd, Denis Grebeshkov, Peter Olvecky, Dan Ellis, Dave Scatchard, Ben Eaves, Triston Grant, Ryan Maki, Nolan Yonkman, Hugh Jessiman, Ben Guite. Of these, expect only Yonkman, Maki, and possibly Jessiman to be retained to play in Milwaukee.
Pending Restricted Free Agents
Patric Hornqvist, Cody Franson, Ryan Parent, Mike Santorelli, Mark Dekanich, Robert Dietrich, and Teemu Laakso. The team has already qualified these players, meaning that if any team besides Nashville offered them a contract the Predators have the right to match the offer or be compensated via draft picks It remains to be seen for how much, but its pretty safe to assume all of these players will be re-signed.
Salary Cap Situation
The Predators currently have 17 (12 forwards, four defensemen, one goalie) players under contract at $38,891,667. Assuming that Patric Hornqvist, Cody Franson, and Ryan Parent are re-upped, that would probably put the number somewhere around $42 million (making 18 forwards, six defensemen), give or take a few hundred thousand. The Predators' internal budget comes in well below the $59.8 million salary cap, an educated guess being roughly $47.5 million. To summarize: I calculate Nashville having about $3.5-4 million to spend on July 1, even with financial constraints, assuming Parent/Franson sign for roughly 1M each, and Hornqvist 2-3.
With the departure of captain and number one center Jason Arnott, the most immediate need for the franchise became his replacement. Its doubtful that Colin Wilson can step into that void in one year, so a plug is needed for the hole in the Predators' top line.
Secondly, losing Dan Ellis to free agency could be a more serious loss than at first glance. Pekka Rinne, while usually spectacular, still suffered from bouts of inconsistency in 2009-10. Without Ellis on the bench to step in as needed, the Preds need to make a decision on whether or not the backup goalie is already in the system (Mark Dekanich or Chet Pickard), or on the open market.
In regards to center, there are no true top-line pivots remaining on the market after the re-signing of Patrick Marleau. The Predators probably don't need one, though, as the goal in my mind would be to patch the hole until Colin Wilson is fully prepared to take on top line duties.
With that in mind, the best available options for this course are Matthew Lombardi and Vinny Prospal. Lombardi, 28, put up 53 points with the Phoenix Coyotes last year, mainly centering Shane Doan and the flavor of the month, while Prospal posted 58 points playing with superstar Marian Gaborik. Between the factors of age and durability, I'd go with Lombardi here. His expiring deal had a 1,816,666 cap hit, meaning that the Predators could likely sign him with room to spare for our next target...
...backup goalie. There are a couple schools of thought here. 1) that the Preds are OK, and able to rely on a rookie to play behind who Nashville has essentially deemed their franchise 'keeper, or 2) that a veteran is necessary in case of injury or prolonged spells of poor performance. I'm not entirely comfortable with Dekanich in Nashville for 82 games, meaning the Predators should take a look at one of Alex Auld, Michael Leighton, or Martin Biron. Of the three, Biron is the most experienced and reliable. A small raise from his previous contract with the Islanders would put him right under $1.5 million.
David Poile has put the Nashville Predators in a position to succeed this offseason - if the right strings are pulled. The specific personnel choices that I made above are not that important, just that some spending gets done to replace assets lost. With $3.5 million to spend on Thursday, what would you do?