The Captain Stays - now how do the Preds manage roster & budget?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22: Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators poses for a portrait during the 2011 NHL Awards at the Palms Casino Resort June 22, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Nashville Predators have stood their ground.

By matching the Philadelphia Flyers' 14-year, $110 million offer sheet, the Preds have answered a stern challenge from one of the league's wealthiest and most aggressive clubs, and retained their captain.

Now, we all know that team chairman Tom Cigarran is a consummate gentleman, who prefers to exude a cool, professional demeanor before the press. So I took the liberty of running his statement announcing the match through a translator:

"Yo, Snider - I got your offer sheet right here, pal. Match this!"

So yes, this drama came to a happy conclusion for Predators fans who were worried about Nashville becoming simply a development system for big-market teams who would scoop up their best players just as they hit stardom.

Still, there are going to be some major challenges ahead as the Preds seek to build a contender around two players (Weber & Rinne) who will command $21 million in salary and bonuses for each of the next four seasons. How can they manage to do that? Let's take a look...

The basic answer is that the Predators will need relatively cheap (in other words, homegrown) talent to complement its two stars. Fortunately, few if any NHL teams do a better job of building such players as the Preds, and Nashville does have a number of youngsters already contributing at the big-league level, along with prospects who are on that path for the years ahead.

The following table, driven by data from NHLNumbers.com (all figures in million US$), lays out the salary situation for the next three seasons. Fields in italics represent rough estimates either for particular players or replacements in similar roles. It also reflects a 22-man Active Roster, one below the limit of 23.

Player 2012/13 Cap Hit 2012/13 Salary 2013/14 Salary 2014/15 Salary
Forwards 29.1 26.9 32.4 33.4
David Legwand 4.5 4.0 3.5 3.0
Martin Erat 4.5 5.5 3.8 2.3
Mike Fisher 4.2 3.0 3.0 3.0
Paul Gaustad 3.3 2.0 4.0 4.0
Patric Hornqvist 3.1 3.3 4.0 4.5
Nick Spaling 1.1 1.1 1.0 1.0
Brandon Yip 0.8 0.8 1.0 1.0
Craig Smith 0.7 0.7 3.0 3.0
Matt Halischuk 0.7 0.8 1.5 1.5
Gabriel Bourque 0.6 0.6 2.0 2.5
Brian McGrattan 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6
Sergei Kostitsyn 3.0 3.0 3.0 4.5
Colin Wilson 2.0 1.5 2.0 2.5
Defense 17.6 24.0 27.2 28.9
Shea Weber 7.9 14.0 14.0 14.0
Hal Gill 2.0 2.0 2.0 1.5
Ryan Ellis 1.4 0.8 0.8 3.0
Kevin Klein 1.4 1.4 4.0 4.0
Roman Josi 1.0 0.9 2.5 2.5
Veteran D 3.0 4.0 3.0 3.0
Ekholm/Blum/Bartley/7th D 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.9
Goaltenders 8.5 8.3 8.5 8.5
Pekka Rinne 7.0 7.0 7.0 7.0
Chris Mason 1.5 1.3 1.5 1.5
Other 1.8 1.8
J.P. Dumont 1.3 1.3
Brett Lebda 0.5 0.5
Grand Total 56.8 61.0 68.1 70.8

So here are what I see as the major factors over the next few seasons:

Declining Costs

A positive factor here is that the cost for core forwards like David Legwand, Martin Erat, and Mike Fisher are on the decline, and the buyouts for J.P. Dumont & Brett Lebda will come off the books after 2012-2013. Those combine for about $4.5 million in relief for 2013-14 as compared to the upcoming season.

Rising Costs

All those young players eventually come due for another contract, and there will be a number of guys who may earn significant raises next summer. Probably the biggest name there is Kevin Klein, who has developed into a solid shutdown guy who can soak up minutes at even strength and take a leading role on the PK. I would not be surprised at all to see him get $4 million or more on his next contract (before considering any league-wide rollback in salaries under the next CBA, of course). Craig Smith, Gabriel Bourque, and Roman Josi will also need new contracts, however.

Mitigation Strategies

  • Re-focus on drafting & development as a core competency of the organization. Where possible, draft picks & prospects need to be acquired at the expense of players who are clearly headed to unrestricted free agency or prospects who aren't on a productive development path (i.e. Chet Pickard).
  • Comb the waiver wire for players who may be able to fit specific roles within the organization. Bargain-bin wonders like Joel Ward and Jan Hlavac have made outsized contributions in recent years.
  • At the Trade Deadline, strongly consider trading Paul Gaustad. Paying $4 million for a faceoff specialist & PK man after 2012-2013 is a luxury this team cannot afford. According to CapGeek, Gaustad has a modified No-Trade Clause, so there will be some limitations here as to how that might work.
  • Keep the NHL roster at a minimum. While the league allows 23 players to be carried on the Active Roster, it will be imperative to keep that number closer to the minimum of 20 wherever possible. The team ran from the 2010 Trade Deadline all the way through the end of that season with just 20 guys, so it's possible to do so for stretches of time.
Those are just a few of the ideas on how the team can continue to compete in light of the heavy financial burden being taken on by the ownership. It'll be a tough challenge, but one I think we're all relieved to see the team taking on.
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