In Nashville, the discussion of where we will spend our free agent money (if any) hinges on the amount it will take to lock up our Captain, Shea Freaking Weber. He is a man amongst boys on the ice, most notably, his nomination for the Norris trophy this year with the likes of legendary D-man Nicklas Lidstrom and the now Stanley Cup winning captain of the Bruins, Zdeno Chara, has put him in the elite defenseman category where Shea and his agent can pretty much muscle the Preds to hand over a blank check. The big problem with that is our inability to spend money, real money, and stay just above the midpoint of the salary cap so we can still be eligible for the Revenue Sharing program provided by the NHL. Now, is that a crappy way of getting money for your team, especially with our on-ice success of getting to the playoffs 6 out of the last 7 years? Yes. Do I blame Poile for working the system? Hell No. Why do you think he is up for the GM of the year award next week?
Personally, I would love to see Shea sign at around the 6.5M to 7M over the span of 6-7 years. Anything over this amount and I fear we may have to let either Ryan Suter (Shea’s wonder twin) or Pekka Rinne (Vezina-caliber goaltender) go. Nobody wants this to happen. These three players are the core to what makes the Predators click and the system to which Trotz fervently adheres to based around defense and goaltending. With Weber and the Preds filing for arbitration, this gives them some time to work on a long term deal without other teams throwing out ridiculous offers to try and force the Predators’ hand in negotiations.
So, here is what I would propose as my top 7 players to be on the lookout for on free agency day, July 1st:
2010-2011 Stats: GP Goals Assists Points +/- Salary
#1. Jussi Jokinen LW 70 19 33 52 +3 $1.7M
Jussi Jokinen would have to be my first choice. The only thing is, he has pretty much stated that he expects a huge pay increase and I’m not sure if the Preds would be willing to pony up, especially consider how much we’ll pay Weber. Since I don’t get to watch the Canes as much, I have to go by some of the numbers and they are solid. 19 goals would have been top three on out team and 52 points would have led our team. I would love to see Poile work some magic and sign this guy for around $3M per year for 2 years. Hey, a man can dream, right?
#2. Alex Tanguay LW 79 22 47 69 +0 $1.7M
Tanguay is no spring chicken, but the numbers speak for themselves. He would provide veteran leadership, and that’s a plus since we do not know what Sully’s going to do after this year (either give us a hometown rate of $1M/1 yr contract, or join the front office) and Dumont has been steadily riding the pine. I think Tanguay would be like adding Statsny from the Avs without the hefty 6M per price tag. His goals and points would have led the Predators last season, and I think he still has something left in the tank. It would be a worth-while chance to take, especially for around $2M per for 2 years. It’s also a plus that he only missed 3 games last season, a testament to his durability.
2010-2011 Stats: GP Goals Assists Points +/- Salary
#3. Nikolai Zherdev RW 56 16 6 22 +5 $2M
OK, hear me out on this one. I have heard all over the internets that this guy is a piece of work; a head-case and a selfish individual that doesn’t “play well with others.” Funny, these are the same sentiments I heard last year about one Sergei Kostitsyn and that seemed to work out pretty well for us. He didn’t play for half the year since he was slumming it in the KHL, but his production in goals is undeniable. Don’t expect him to have a ton of helpers because he is a pure sniper and goal scorer which is something the Predator faithful have been screaming for ever since Radulov defected to that Federal league known as the KHL. I’d say, bring him in for $1-1.5M for one year as a tryout and see if Trotz and Co. can turn him around much like Kostitsyn. Similar to Kostitsyn, Zherdev was under the close scrutiny of the Philadelphia and NY Ranger media, so hopefully like Kostitsyn, he’ll flourish out from under the microscope.
#4. Tomas Fleischmann LW 45 12 19 31 -1 $2.6M
Is he damaged goods? Not so sure there, Tomas Vokoun suffered from the same kind of illness that produces clots in the lungs, and he is still a top goaltender for the Florida Panthers. I think the uncertainty of Fleischmann is what will have people second guessing whether or not to bring him into the organization. So based on that, he may be picked up for around the same salary or less if someone wants to take a chance on him. Showed flashes of brilliance in Washington and Colorado, but the jury is still out. I do wonder if the systems in these two cities helped pad his numbers, cause in Nashville, unfortunately, we do not have other elite scoring talent.
#5. Radim Vrbata RW 79 19 29 40 +5 $3M
I am almost scared to touch anything from Phoenix after the Lombardi incident last year. I have seen Vrbata many times when we have played Phoenix and he seems to be the type of player that would fit into the Preds system nicely. Vrbata reminds me of a more defensive Scottie Upshall with better hands and more goal scoring talent. Only drawback is the $3M pricetag, may be too much for the Preds since we still have Lombardi on our books.
#6. Chris Higgins LW 62 13 15 28 +5 $1.6M
Higgins was traded from Florida to Vancouver at the trade deadline and became a great role player for the Canucks on the Stanley Cup Finals run. Higgins is a hard worker and although he doesn’t put up a ton of points, he is clutch on defense and would plug straight into the “Predator’s Way.” His 8 points in the playoffs also provides a Joel Ward-like surge that will more than likely up his value over where it should be. Would like to lock him up for the same amount of money, but think he will command 2.1-2.3M and we already have people like Spaling and Halischuk that can cover what Higgins would bring to the Preds.
#7. Brooks Laich C 82 16 32 48 +14 $2.1M
Laich may also have padded numbers because of the line mates that accompanied him in Washington, but check out that +/-. Only 2 away from leading our team in points, but the big question is our logjam at center. As of this writing, we currently have Fisher, O’Reilly (just re-signed), Legwand, Spaling, Wilson, Smithson, and Goc until July 1st.
I would hate to lose any of these guys, let alone bring in another
competitor for the starting gig, especially since we don’t know anything about the condition or readiness of Lombardi who was supposed to be our #1 center last year.
In conclusion, the free agency market is fun to speculate in and grasp the straws of other teams to see if a GM can find those diamonds in the rough (something Poile has done quite well i.e. Ward, Kostitsyn, Goc) So, the big “but” in the room before this crazy summer of signings kicks off is Weber and the amount it will take to keep him. Look for this amount and the raising of the salary cap to be key factors in how the Predators front office handles the free agent market and whether or not we make a big splash or a menial ripple.