Nashville Predators salary & free agent outlook for 2011-12

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 05: Joel Ward #29 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals at Bridgestone Arena on May 5, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

With the Nashville Predators season over, it's already time to start speculating about the changes that might come over the summer (my son was already talking about that as we walked out of Bridgestone Arena last night). The biggest opportunity for change obviously comes with the number of players finishing their current contracts.

Follow after the jump as we review which players are signed for next season, how much money they'll take up, and which players are eligible for free agency...

This season, the salary cap was $59.4 million, and it's likely that for 2011-12 it could bump up to somewhere in the $62-64 million range (I've speculated that it could go even higher). With the Preds likely to spend $8-10 million below the cap, let's peg them for a theoretical budget of $52 million for next season. In the table below, RFA refers to Restricted Free Agents (other teams can make offers, but the Preds have the right to match), and UFA are Unrestricted Free Agents (totally up for grabs). All numbers below come from NHLNumbers.com and CapGeek:

Forwards

 Player  Cap Number   11/12 Salary 
 David Legwand 4.5 4.5
 Martin Erat 4.5 6.0
 J.P. Dumont 4.0 4.0
 Steve Sullivan
UFA
 Matthew Lombardi  3.5 3.5
 Patric Hornqvist 3.1 3.0
 Colin Wilson 1.7 0.9
 Joel Ward
UFA
 Mike Fisher 4.2 4.0
 Jordin Tootoo 1.3 1.4
 Nick Spaling
RFA
 Marcel Goc
UFA
 Jerred Smithson 0.7 0.8
 Cal O`Reilly
RFA
 Sergei Kostitsyn
RFA
 Matt Halischuk
RFA
 Blake Geoffrion 1.1 0.9
 Total
28.9

We're likely to see some significant change here, starting with Steve Sullivan. Given the decline in performance and injury concerns, there's no chance that he returns at close to the $3.75 million he made this year. The other unrestricted free agents, Joel Ward and Marcel Goc, present interesting situations. How much of a raise will Ward receive for his outstanding playoff run? Too much for Nashville to fit him within their budget?

With Goc, one wonders what his prognosis will be as he comes back from shoulder surgery, and whether a spot remains for him after the Mike Fisher acquisition, and return to health of Cal O'Reilly. Even without relying on Matthew Lombardi's recovery, you could have a center depth chart of Legwand-Fisher-O'Reilly-Goc, with guys like Spaling, Smithson & Geoffrion available as reserves. I like it, I love it...

With the restricted free agents, I would expect all of them to return at roughly their previous salary, with the exception being Sergei Kostitsyn's next contract. Leading the Preds in goal-scoring could lead to some pricey salary demands, but I hope David Poile doesn't bank on him scoring 20 again. As I've said for months, SK74 is a nice complementary player, but he doesn't shoot the puck enough to be relied upon as a major contributor.

Defense

 Player  Cap Number   11/12 Salary 
 Shea Weber RFA
 Ryan Suter 3.5 3.5
 Shane O`Brien UFA
 Kevin Klein 1.4 1.4
 Francis Bouillon  1.4 1.5
 Cody Franson 0.8 0.8
 Jonathon Blum 0.9 0.8
 Total 7.9

That guy at the top of the list will surely command a pretty hefty fee this summer, and my guess is that we won't know how it turns out until Drew Doughty gets his deal in Los Angeles. The stunning development here is how smoothly Jonathon Blum stepped into a major role on the 2nd pair in 5-on-5 hockey with Kevin Klein.

Assuming that Francis Bouillon is able to return to duty in the fall, the Preds may be able to let Shane O'Brien hit the free agent market and not require another veteran to fill out the roster. I could, for example, see them run with 6 defensemen on the roster on a regular basis, while dipping into Milwaukee as needed for short-term injury replacements.

Goaltending

 Player  Cap Number   11/12 Salary 
 Pekka Rinne 3.4 4.0
 Anders Lindback  0.9 0.7
 Total 4.7

It looks like this picture is pretty set for next season.

The Next Wave

 Player  Cap Number   11/12 Salary 
 Mark Dekanich  RFA
 Ryan Ellis 1.5 0.9
 Chet Pickard 1.3 0.8
 Austin Watson 1.1 0.9
 Roman Josi 1.0 0.8
 Taylor Beck 0.9 0.7

Mark Dekanich has proven pretty much all you can at the AHL level, and I have to wonder if the best thing for all sides involved here is for the Preds to trade his rights in order to regain some value at this summer's NHL Entry Draft, where Nashville already traded away its 1st-round selection this year in the Mike Fisher trade. The Predators do have New Jersey's 2nd-round pick, courtesy of the Jason Arnott deal, so perhaps a package of that Devils pick plus Dekanich might get David Poile back into the 1st round.

So with $41.5M already committed to existing players, and the need to sign Shea Weber to a new deal, what do you do up front, folks? Feel free to discuss in the comments below...

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