The news this morning that Albert Pujols is leaving the St. Louis Cardinals to sign a massive 10-year contract with the Angels has the baseball world buzzing, and a good portion of the reaction says we have another greedy player placing himself above the team or his longtime fans in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Even locally, the story is gaining attention - Joe Dubin of 102.5 The Game noted it on Twitter:
I'd recommend keeping that sentiment in mind this summer, because this very scenario could play out over the next several months with Ryan Suter, who is currently playing out the final year of his contract with the Predators. Yes, of course I've seen the comments from Suter a couple weeks back that he'd like to stay here in Nashville, and I know that provided comfort to a lot of fans.
Unfortunately, talk is cheap. World-class two-way defensemen are not.
A player can say he'd like to stay with a given team, and that could be 100% true, but he could just as easily "like" to play for any other team in the league, too, especially if the financial and/or competitive situation is more favorable. And despite all the talk, I think you'd be hard-pressed to say this is the place where Suter could both maximize his earnings and contend for a Stanley Cup on an annual basis. Just look at some of the teams out there with salary room available next season (via CapGeek). Detroit, Dallas, Anaheim, New Jersey, and Washington are just a few of the teams with spending power this summer.
Next, take a look at the list of unrestricted free agent defensemen due to hit the market in 2012. Ryan Suter is unquestionably the cream of the crop. When Brian Campbell hit the market under similarly favorable conditions in 2008, he received an 8-year contract for more than $7 million per season. You can bet that somebody will go ga-ga over Suter (with much more reason, actually) and throw similar numbers, if not more, at him. So far this season he's putting up career-best offensive results, logging more ice time than ever, and is standing out defensively on an otherwise shoddy team:
Most data from Hockey-Reference.com
The task facing David Poile is a simple, but extremely difficult one. Sooner rather than later, he needs to understand whether a contract extension will get done in the very near future. If not, he needs to work the market and get the bidding started in order to trade Suter and get something of value in return. The longer this situation plays out, the less leverage Poile has, and if this uncertainty lingers through the end of the regular season, that leverage will be gone altogether. Letting Suter walk away as a free agent without any compensation for Nashville would be disastrous.
Unlike the Albert Pujols situation, the Predators shouldn't delude themselves into the notion that holding on until the bitter end gives them a window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup this season. I think we all know what we have with this current team; a core of elite talent surrounded by some good (not great) complementary players and a whole lot of youth that is still developing. I don't think any reasonable observer would put them in a top 10 list of Cup favorites this year, so betting on a deep playoff run now at the risk of losing a prime hockey asset for nothing is perilous.
This isn't personal with Ryan Suter, it's just business. The guy has worked his way into an incredibly lucrative position, and it's hard to imagine that he'd give up his chance to hit the open market, the opportunity to not only hit the jackpot financially but also have some control over where he plays for the next several seasons.
For the love of the Predators, and not the defenseman who he drafted here in 2003, then developed patiently over time, David Poile needs to figure out soon whether or not that future takes place in Nashville. If that answer is not forthcoming, then it's time to see what kind of assets can be gained in return, and help keep this team competitive for the years ahead.