Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy noted this week a dearth of actual roster openings, independent of salary cap issues this year, that are creating a labor crunch around the NHL (emphasis in the original):
There are 18 teams with less than $3 million under the $64.3 million cap, and six teams currently over it. The teams with elephantine cap space are ones that aren’t necessarily looking to spend: The Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames are all in a palpable rebuild. (Even the Flames have stopped deluding themselves about it.)
But beyond cap space, the real issue: There are no jobs. Seven teams have less than 22 players on their projected roster, according to Cap Geek. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Toronto Maple Leafs are among them; but in the latter two cases, they have RFAs left to sign. Factor in rookies on the rise, and an entire swath of veteran players are getting frozen out.
Where does this leave someone like Vinny Prospal? Or Brenden Morrow? Or Ryan Whitney? Or really any goaltender, being that there’s practically no room at the inn for all 30 teams?
Europe’s always an option, although those seasons are nearing their start and roster spots are scarce.
The Nashville Predators typically prefer to bring younger guys along slowly, and the 2012-2013 season was really the first time in a long time David Poile went almost exclusively with "what's in the cupboard" in lieu of big trades or free agent signings. That resulted in not much of a season to write home about (lockout aside), and a leadership vacuum up front in offensive categories. Adding Viktor Stalberg and Matt Hendricks up front are reasons to cheer, but signing Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom still have many Fang Faithful scratching their heads. GMDP overpaid for all of them, too.
Still, according to Cap Geek, Nashville currently has close to $4.7 million in salary cap space available for the upcoming season, and 22 of 23 roster spots filled as they head into training camp (the Preds website lists a roster of 34, and we know that they have invited 60 to training camp; obviously, not all will make the final cut, and for purposes of salary cap calculations, Cap Geek focuses only on likely roster spot holders). I know what you're thinking: David Poile doesn't spend to the cap, and the fact that it's lower this year probably won't change that. Add to that the facts that Pekka Rinne's contract has somewhat hamstrung the Preds' personnel budget, relative to other teams' expenditures between the pipes, or that truckloads of money are still showing up in Shea Weber's driveway per his front-loaded blockbuster contract, and it seems unlikely that the Predators will make an additional move before the 2013-2014 season really gets under way . . . especially after GMDP made a "splash" this summer.
But names like J.P. Dumont, Rich Clune, Brian McGrattan, Dave Scatchard, Francis Bouillon, and Shane O'Brien remind us that, if the right player and the right deal come along, Poile will pull the trigger.
Dirk examined some potential free agent acquisition targets earlier this summer:
- David Clarkson (signed with Toronto)
- Nathan Horton (signed with Columbus)
- Stephen Weiss (signed with Detroit)
- Derek Roy (signed with St. Louis)
- Jaromir Jagr (signed with New Jersey)
- Clarke MacArthur (signed with Ottawa)
- Michael Ryder (signed with New Jersey)
- Ryane Clowe (signed with New Jersey)
- Viktor Stalberg (signed with Nashville)
Turning back to Cap Geek, a number of interesting names remain unsigned as we lurch toward the upcoming season. Here's a look at a few of those names that could benefit Nashville's roster in the short term (especially if GMDP traded center David Legwand, freeing up an additional $4.5 million in cap space, which might be worth it to the Preds even for "future considerations"), allowing them to continue bringing younger guys along slowly.
#24 / Center
Mar 09, 1986
For the first time in a long time, the Preds are short on talent on the right side. Signed by the Detroit Red Wings in 2012 to a two-way deal out of his native Switzerland, Brunner, like Stalberg, suffered from playing among offensive titans in the U.S. His tour of duty in Motown, though, yielded 26 points in 44 regular season games played (12 goals, 14 assists), and 9 points in 14 playoff games (5 goals, 4 assists). That's a 22 goal pace over the course of an 82 game season, so Brunner fits Nashville's score-by-committee model. You have to wonder, though, if you gave him a top 6 role on a team like the Preds, or some time on the power play, if he wouldn't rise to the occasion and really break out in North America. Brunner also doesn't take many penalties, and that's significant on a Preds team that saw its penalty kill tank last year, dropping to 75.7%, good for second-to-worst in the NHL. With his modest cap hit of $1.35 million in 2012-2013, signing the 27-year-old Brunner to a couple of years might be worth the risk for Nashville, and could help slow the development of Colton Sissons and Zach Budish, or any of the prospects at center who might find time on the wing. The Wings thought he has asked for too much money, and moved on after he turned down two offers, but the Preds have a little money to play with right now (and a fellow countryman in Roman Josi).
Sep 13, 1976
I know, I know: Barry Trotz says Carter Hutton is "no doubt" the guy to back up Rinne. If you're going to give Peks the lion's share of starts anyway, why not let your back-up be a guy you only pay half a million? Here's why: for probably only a little bit more money, you can get someone with oodles of NHL experience, including playoff experience, in Theodore. This would be something like a Chris Mason Part II signing, sure; but why risk (a) having to call up Magnus Hellberg later in the season anyway if Pekka gets injured again, or (b) having to sign someone else later in the season anyway if Pekka gets injured again? This one seems like a no-brainer, but everyone with an Internet connection is an expert these days, I guess.
May 06, 1977
This is probably really cynical of me, but I have to think at some point this season Mattias Ekholm will do something "horrible, just horrible," possibly even in training camp, and Ryan Ellis's youth, inexperience, and size will interfere with his game. Victor Bartley, however, acquitted himself exceptionally well last year, given the circumstances, and a veteran presence playing alongside him could pay dividends as the Preds try to bring both Ellis and Bartley along. Who better than former Pred Mark Eaton? They guy is a bargain basement steal at this point, primarily because you can count on him to not really mess stuff up. He can play decent second pairing minutes and rarely ever takes a penalty. Eaton also won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, and an organization like Nashville can never have too much deep playoff experience in the room.
Jan 16, 1979
The Nashville Predators are pretty well shored up on the left side, but I wanted to toss out league veteran Brendan Morrow as a possible acquisition. After being rented to the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, Morrow might try to offer a hometown discount to the Dallas Stars, a squad he once captained, to finish his career in a city he called home for many years. But Dallas has only $2.5 million in available cap space next year, and while the game has taken its toll on the oft-injured Morrow, signing him (or at least attempting to sign him) could be GMDP's way of trolling a new #ConferenceIII rival. Morrow's win-at-all-costs and rough-and-tumble style of play could complement some of the other acquisitions the team has made this off-season. Who knows, maybe a younger, healthier Morrow is what GMDP thought he was getting in Eric Nystrom?
What do you think, might any of these free agents help round out the Predators lineup?