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Nashville Predators 2011 Free Agency Preview

It's time to go shopping, folks, for some fresh blood to join the Nashville Predators for the 2011-12 NHL season. But where exactly do the Predators need help the most, and what options are available to plug those holes?

Follow after the jump as we dig into those questions...

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First of all, let's break down the main statistical measures of Nashville's 2010-11 team performance:

Offense Defense
 Goals Per Game 2.60 (21st) 2.32 (3rd)  Goals Against per Game
 5-on-5 Shots For/60  28.9 (22nd) 30.5 (19th)  5-on-5 Shots Against/60
 5-on-5 Shoot % 8.6% (8th) .931 (3rd)  5-on-5 Save %
 5-on-4 Shots For/60 46.6 (24th) 47.5 (7th)  4-on-5 Shots Against/60
 5-on-4 Shoot % 10.8% (24th) .898 (8th)  4-on-5 Save %
 PP's/Game 3.28 (24th) 3.31 (7th)  PK's/Game
 Faceoff Win %  PP 51.7% (19th)   EV 50.4% (16th)   PK 47.2% (17th)

Barry Trotz has noted on multiple occasions (most recently quoted by David Boclair at the City Paper) that Boston and Vancouver, who battled for the Stanley Cup, were #1 and #2 in the league in defense, so the Preds resting at #3 may not be that far away from getting there themselves.

I respectfully disagree.

Yes, the Predators did a fine job defensively (due, in very large part, to Pekka Rinne's career year), but Vancouver was also 1st in the league in offense at 3.15 Goals/Game, and Boston 5th at 2.98 (Nashville ranked 21st at 2.60). Over the course of the season, that shortfall in offensive performance accounts for a difference of 10-15 points in the standings, the gap between a marginal playoff participant and a legitimate Cup contender.

Simply put, getting outshot consistently and relying on Pekka to carry the team once again seems like a poor game plan for 2011-12. The Predators need to push the play up-ice more consistently.

On defense and in goal, the Preds appear pretty much set - assuming Francis Bouillon returns to active duty in the fall, he would be joined by Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein, Cody Franson, Jon Blum, and one of Teemu Laakso/Roman Jose/Ryan Ellis to form the defense corps. In goal, Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback should take up those two spots.

Up front, however, there are holes. Last season you had many forwards rushed up to the NHL to cover for injury issues like Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk, Chris Mueller, etc. At center, behind David Legwand, Mike Fisher and Nick Spaling/Jerred Smithson, they need an offensively-oriented pivot (does Cal O`Reilly get that job?). On the wing, after Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Colin Wilson and Sergei Kostitsyn (assuming he's back), you've got lots of room for help as well (J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan aren't returning, and Jordin Tootoo still hasn't put together a full, productive season).

The current lineup is overly heavy with defensive-oriented forwards. Not two-way forwards, which is the popular phrased often thrown about. Last season, there were 367 forwards with at least 40 games played and 5 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time per game in the league. Ranked by point-scoring rate, guys like Nick Spaling (336th) and Jerred Smithson (346th) are shown as the pure checkers that they are (Martin Erat is the highest-ranked Pred, at #44).

The Preds are loaded with guys who you'd love to see on the PK, but how many of them would you say are definitely PP performers? Hornqvist, perhaps? Erat? That's about it. But you can rattle off a long list of good penalty killers (Smithson, Spaling, Legwand, Erat, Ward, Fisher) in the blink of an eye.

Remember, though, you need 50% more forwards on the PP than the PK.

Nashville has room for a scorer or two, but don't necessarily have to break the bank in order to bring them in. Forget Mike Richards and the like, we need to check out the economy lot.

So where does that help come from?

I was planning to do a breakdown of available salary based on what is likely to happen with Nashville's restricted free agents, but this Qualifying Offer story has the potential to really mess things up.

But let's try to at least set out a guideline.

If you check out NHLNumbers, it looks like the Preds currently stand around $39.5M in payroll (not cap hit, payroll for this season), with several spots to fill, most notably Shea Weber's. A realistic expectation for a payroll at the start of the season would be somewhere in the $52-55 million range, still a fair bit below the salary cap midpoint of $56.3 million, leaving room for maneuver during the season if needed.

Here, then, are some relatively affordable forwards who might be able to help juice things up (all salary numbers below from NHLNumbers)...

Joel Ward

#29 / Right Wing / Nashville Predators



Dec 02, 1980

2010-11 Salary: $1.5 million

2010 - Joel Ward 80 10 19 29 -1 42 5 0 4 157 6.4

He's not a blazing offensive performer by any stretch, but when you adjust Relative Corsi ratings for the influence of defensive vs. offensive zone starts (I'll have more on that in a separate post) and quality of competition, Ward stands 2nd on the Predators in his ability to push Shots For & Against in the right direction. You can also argue that Ward is criminally underutilized on the power play; over the last 3 seasons he's ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 2nd on the team in Goals/60 minutes in 5-on-4 play, but he ranked 10th on the team among forwards in PP ice time per game last season.

Yes, perhaps the most important unrestricted free agent on the market for the Preds is the guy they need to retain.

Kyle Wellwood

#20 / Center / San Jose Sharks



May 16, 1983

2010-11 Salary: $650,000

2010 - Kyle Wellwood 35 5 8 13 10 0 0 0 0 50 10.0

Eye-popping numbers here? No, but Wellwood is a guy who you can plug into a supporting role and actually create some offense. He prospered in just such a role for the Sharks after getting claimed off waivers, and he could likely come pretty cheap on the open market.

Sean Bergenheim

#10 / Left Wing / Tampa Bay Lightning



Feb 08, 1984

2010-11 Salary: $700,000

2010 - Sean Bergenheim 80 14 15 29 0 56 2 0 1 182 7.7

A 9-goals-in-11-games run during the playoffs may have him seeking a major payday, but if he could be had at the right price, Bergenheim could add some pop as a 2nd- or 3rd-line winger.

Scottie Upshall

#8 / Right Wing / Columbus Blue Jackets



Oct 07, 1983

2010-11 Salary: $2.25 million

2010 - Scottie Upshall 82 22 12 34 -7 52 2 0 2 191 11.5

I confess to never being a big Upshall fan, but is it possible that he's finally putting it together at the NHL level? He finally broke the 20-goal plateau at age 27, and gives David Poile the chance to say "see, we knew what we were doing when we drafted him."

Erik Cole

#26 / Left Wing / Carolina Hurricanes



Nov 06, 1978

2011-12 Salary: $3 million

2010 - Erik Cole 82 26 26 52 -1 49 3 1 9 201 12.9

He's on the far side of 30, but with Sullivan and Dumont gone, somebody has to be the grownup, right? Cole is a goal-scorer first and foremost, something the Predators sorely lack. He doesn't push the Shots For/Against numbers as favorably as the rest here, but they need someone who drives the net.

Here's a look at some of the numbers which guided this look (along with several other candidates for consideration), I'll have more on this front sometime next week:

 Player  TEAM  GP   TOI/60   Pts/60   Net Zone Start   CR Qual Comp   Adjusted Corsi 
 Joel Ward  NSH 80 13.24 1.30 -131 +1.172 +9.7
 Kyle Wellwood  S.J 35 13.25 1.55 +7 -0.461 +21.0
 Sean Bergenheim  T.B 80 11.31 1.66 -40 -0.114 +16.2
 Scottie Upshall  PHX/CBJ 82 12.45 1.82 +36 -0.610 +8.5
 Erik Cole  CAR 82 13.57 2.16 0 +0.583 -3.7
 Raffi Torres  VAN 80 11.56 1.62 -204 -0.501 +11.6
 Andrew Murray  CBJ 29 9.93 1.46 -31 -1.340 +11.5
 Patrick Eaves  DET 63 9.67 1.58 -6 -0.160 +8.2
 Eric Belanger  PHX 82 13.45 1.85 -51 +0.406 +8.2
 Marcel Goc  NSH 51 13.63 1.90 -49 +0.212 +7.1
 Simon Gagne  T.B 63 12.89 1.70 -25 +0.079 +5.4
 Jamie Langenbrunner   DAL 70 13.32 1.54 +14 -0.098 +5.2
 Tim Connolly  BUF 68 11.74 1.65 +58 +0.313 +4.7

Source data from Behind the Net. All numbers from 5-on-5 play.

Net Zone Start = Offensive Zone Faceoffs - Defensive Zone Faceoffs. (lower numbers = tougher workload)

CR Qual Comp = Quality of Competition using Relative Corsi (higher numbers = tougher competition)

Adjusted Corsi = Net of Total Shots For & Against/60 minutes, when regressed for Zone Start & CR Qual Comp.