After standing aside as free agent forwards left his team for bigger paydays elsewhere, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile gave himself some extra financial headroom by getting Toronto to take on Matthew Lombardi's $3.5 million annual contract. Armed with what may approach $20 million in budget space, he has sworn to not just get Shea Weber signed, but bring in a Top 6 forward as well. Since an already-weak free agent market has pretty much been picked clean in that regard, it's time to start talking trade.
So which forwards are out there who might fit the Preds' needs? Let's follow after the jump for a quick recap of the current depth chart up front, and a look at possible trade targets...
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Nashville Predators forward depth chart
For the purposes of this discussion, we'll assume that the RFA's will all be retained. That leaves us with the following (among guys who played at all in the NHL last year):
David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Jerred Smithson, Nick Spaling, Cal O`Reilly, Blake Geoffrion, Kyle Wilson, Chris Mueller
What's missing here is a proven offensive force at the NHL level. Is there anyone here you'd really feel confident putting out there on the power play when the Preds really need a goal?
Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Sergei Kostitsyn, Colin Wilson, Jordin Tootoo, Niclas Bergfors, Matt Halischuk, Zach Stortini
There's definitely room for a difference-maker here as well, especially if the Predators want to field three lines with some scoring punch to them. Right now they could maybe fill out two such lines, but that relies on continued development by SK74 and Willy.
Granted, one of Spaling/Smithson plays wing when they're on the same line, and a guy like Erat seems to play comfortably on either side, but the Predators definitely need some offensive help up front, and could really use two such players if they really wanted to keep up with the Great Powers around the league. Given the situation, however, I'm guessing one is the most we can hope for if the Big 3 of Weber, Suter and Rinne are to be retained.
Offensive forwards around the league
Much like with the free agent targets, I've published a Google Spreadsheet (feel free to download your own copy) which contains some details around some forwards around the NHL, bringing together data from NHLNumbers and Behind the Net. I've screened down to those forwards who will make at least $3 million next season, added in a few Restricted Free Agents like Zach Parise (but he only played 13 games, so don't put much into those numbers) and removed those were recently involved in trades or signings with a new team. Also, I went through the team listings on CapGeek to remove those players with No-Trade or No-Movement clauses. Since we're talking about getting scoring help for the Preds, I've included data for 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 play, since we don't really need to look at penalty killing.
Included here are the player's salary for the upcoming season ($MM column), and their advanced stats. The most basic measure of offensive talent is Pts/60 in 5-on-5, which is the sorting order presented here. But for bargain hunting I'd recommend a couple other areas to look at.
The first is that "Sht % On" column, which shows the shooting percentage of that player's team while he's on the ice. If it's low, that's a sign that perhaps he suffered the misfortunes of Lady Luck, and his overall offensive totals may regress to a higher level over the long run. The second such area is 5-on-4 ice time; if a player didn't get much last year, their scoring totals may be lower than they might be here in Nashville, where the long-suffering PP should be pretty wide open for auditions.
There are many enticing names on this list, but of course many are unlikely to be dangled as trade bait by their respective teams. Sift through, however, and some possibilities do emerge. Ales Hemsky, for example? He's been discussed as a trade possibility before, and would instantly represent the top offensive talent on the Predators, but has a troubling injury history. As Winnipeg gets rolling on their fresh start as a franchise, might they be willing to move Blake Wheeler? Lots of fans drool over the possibility of acquiring Alexander Semin (personally I doubt he'd fit here), and the Caps do need to shed some salary, while others dream of Zach Parise. The Rangers have 3 RFA's on this list (Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Callahan) - do they plan on keeping all of them long-term?
Who jumps out at you as a legitimate possibility to bolster the Nashville offense in 2011-12?