You can’t win the Stanley Cup on July 1st, but you sure can hurt your chances with a bad signing or two. NHL Free Agency is overhyped every single year. Countless ink and Twitter hot takes are spilled leading up and through July 1st on which player(s) can take their club to the next level.
The reality is the NHL Draft the week before is vastly more important to the success of a franchise. The logic is pretty simple. Besides rare circumstances, really good players in their prime aren’t available on the free agent market.
Free agency is about finding the RIGHT player. Not the most expensive one. At the right price, Kyle Okposo is that player for Nashville.
What makes him that? Okposo is a rare player with a substantial scoring pedigree still in his 20’s on the market.
Okposo has averaged over 22 goals per season in his last three and holds a very productive .88 PPG over that time span. For comparison, the lovable Corey Perry is at .86 PPG since 2014. For reference, here's PPG numbers for some other notable forwards in the regular season since 2013-2014....
Some may point to Okposo’s stats being boosted by playing alongside superstar John Tavares, but our Mark Harris showed he actually played more minutes on the wing of Frans Nielsen. Plus, remember a lot of hockey folks believed James Neal’s production would slide significantly without Malkin and Crosby as his center. Neal just finished a 31 goal campaign.
The Okposo argument gets even better when we dive into even strength points per 60 minutes since the 2013-2014 regular season...
This is all a moot point if Nashville can’t sign him for a reasonable term/price. Anything over four years and $5.5 million AAV is probably not the right move for the Predators. With the way free agency tends to become a breeding ground for overpayments, it’s very possible Okposo flies over the above numbers. And that’s okay. David Poile should pack-up the checkbook at that point.
The Preds currently have approximately $5.9 million in projected cap space after the Weber-Subban swap, per General Fanager.
Other notable free agents on the board are on the wrong side of 30. Yes, Milan Lucic is 28, but his extreme physical play as a power forward will likely cut his hockey career down a few years. Similar to why running backs usually burn out at 30 in the NFL.
The age in these free agents matters even more for Nashville because their window for winning big still has quite a few years in it. They don’t need to pour all their resources into next season to "win now" like some other teams.
Watching all the chaos from the sidelines when July 1st rolls around isn’t a bad move for Nashville. It could be their best move. The current roster going into next season is a playoff team. Let’s not forget Nashville sat in 2nd behind the Kings in possession for much of the last season (finished 4th). That same level of play with a more consistent Pekka Rinne will have Nashville battling for the division crown.
Signing Okposo significantly bolsters the forward corps, but probably means Nashville thinks Kevin Fiala needs another year in Milwaukee. If the organization thinks Fiala is ready to make that next step, the decision to not sign anyone is even easier.
Okposo, at the right price, should be in the crosshairs of the Predators this offseason. If that target becomes out of reach, enjoy the madness with your feet up.