When we look back at 2015-2016, hopefully we'll see a roster that took another step forward and did so while relying on some vets that were well past their prime. There's room for improvement in many areas, but Nashville may actually have a new factor to deal with: the cap ceiling. With the new extensions for Nashville's talent, David Poile will be faced with some awkward conversations with some veterans to create some more space for his younger talent. And those conversations will need to happen sooner rather than later if the Preds plan on spending some cash to make a run next year.
Firstly, Gaustad was a good pro who did his job well when he was healthy. The biggest problem with Gaustad was that the game changed drastically over the last half-decade and it didn't suit what he did best: play without the puck. Goose won faceoffs, he did a good job suppressing shots, but he couldn't exit his own zone at times. And given the check he was receiving, Gaustad is a hard sell to come back. A fourth-line defensive center for a competitive team doesn't normally get over $3 million. We can appreciate what he did, but we also need to recognize that there is a younger version of Gaustad with actual offensive upside. Gaustad will very likely be "future endeavored".
He's coming off of his best year in Nashville, and it's coming at the end of a contract. Funny how that happens in sports, eh? Hutton may be a competent backup goalie, or he revert back to Hutton ver2014. What we do know is this: Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros are both pretty good. Maz might be a good fit for backup next year while Saros gets an increased workload to help with his development. Another school of thought would be to bring in a more consistent and veteran backup to supplement Rinne. If the Preds are "ride or die" with Rinne, they have to find a way to make it work. Hutton will likely be given the "future endeavors" treatment as well.
Brother got paid, but his contract is both reasonable and cheap for his role. Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are an excellent second pairing, and get less than $7 million a year. You can't argue with that. Ekholm got a bump up to $3.75 million with his new deal, so that will cut into the cap room.
With this guy, it's hard to pinpoint where he will play. Jarnkrok can play center or wing, and can either be the "control group" in the experiment on a top-six line or a good defensive center on a third line. That's his role right now, and there's nothing wrong with that. If Jarnkrok can play next to Mike Fisher in some capacity, that's a great fit for him. Jarnkrok is due a mild raise. The coaching staff and the front office love this guy. Expect him to come back to Nashville and earning another $1 million or so in the short term.
He's also about to be paid handsomely. If Vladimir Tarasenko is being paid over $7 million, expect Filip to either be pinned to a deal worth around $6+ million, or a shorter term deal worth around $4-5 million for a couple of years. If you want an easy comparable contract: Gabriel Landeskog. His cap hit is just over $5.5 million on his deal he signed back in the summer of 2014. Landeskog posted similar numbers in his first few seasons, aside from the lockout year.
Entry-Level Contracts & Grinders:
We will likely see Colton Sissons in the lineup permanently, and perhaps new backup goalie. These are both good things, and you have been expecting them. Plus, Pontus Aberg may get the call if Kevin Fiala and Vladislav Kamenev aren't ready. Expect Petter Granberg to be back; he's an RFA and plays on the right side. And for all the apathy some of you have about Gabriel Bourque, he's a useful player that doesn't cost a lot and does what the coach asks him to do. Sure, they can bring in someone else to do his job, but Bourque skates better than most of them and will be cheaper.
It's not a bad idea to keep a raise for Ryan Johansen in mind, but his raise may coincide with Mike Fisher's deal expiring. Get used to the idea of Johansen being paid around $7 million.
You know how coaches love to play veterans in the playoffs? Of all the players that dressed (excluding Austin Watson) Eric Nystrom played less than everyone on the team during the playoffs. Cody Bass? Played more than Nystrom. Pontus Aberg? Played more than Nystrom. Nystrom has a modified no-trade clause (that was a bad summer), and the demand for Nystrom will be low. A buyout will cost Nashville $1 million this upcoming year and next, so there's that. Nystrom is a good guy and a good presence in the locker room, but the team cannot afford to keep letting the fruit spoil on the vine in Milwaukee.
This will be broken into two segments.
- Ribeiro has one year left on his deal signed last summer. He did have 50 points, but his play had some violent mood swings during the course of the year. His line got hot after the all-star break, and carried the team through February and into March... then he vanished in the playoffs. Was that due to Forsberg and Craig Smith getting hurt? Or was that due to Ribeiro's lack of speed killing his game against bigger teams? The answer is likely somewhere in between.
- I didn't want him back after last year, mostly because I would rather enjoy the product without restraint. That's my personal opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own, but I would've rather seen the team move on. The fans soured on him in the playoffs, including some heckling at the airport. In a perfect world, the Preds would pursue a better 2C than Ribeiro. However, Ribeiro does not have a no-trade clause, and plenty of teams could use a veteran center that produces points at a low cost. If you can get a pick or a prospect for him... please do it.
Best estimation on cap room and budget:
Based on estimations reported multiple places, the cap ceiling will likely land around $75 million. Without moving Nystrom and Ribeiro off the books and adding in the $3 million raise for Ekholm as well as Forsberg's potential new check, that would only give Nashville $5 million of cap space. Ribeiro and Nystrom are being paid a combined $6 million, and getting them off the roster would create the space to line the roster with younger platoon players (much like what San Jose has done with their lower lines). Also, it would allow Nashville to "go for it" one last time with Fisher.
With both Ribeiro and Nystrom on the roster, the payroll can be estimated at around $69-70 million (including Forsberg with a $6 million raise, and some ELC/RFA deals). Getting rid of both of them without a buyout would bring the cap space up to $11-12 million ($63-64 million total payroll). The Preds can buy their way out of the Nystrom deal to save some money against the cap, but buying out Ribeiro will have no benefit to the cap... just peace of mind.
In the coming weeks, we'll be looking at some potential targets in the short term to help this team get further in the bracket than this year's team did. The good news: the hard part of shaping the Predators' roster for the future may be over. Now they just have to retain their players, and supplement them.