The Predators have been busy in the past few days, first with the Mikael Granlund news yesterday (read about that here) and now with another contract to a nice UFA piece in Erik Haula; it’s a Finnish forward bonanza, folks. Haula is signing a contract worth $1.75 million over 1 year, as confirmed by Nashville’s PR account on Twitter.
Haula is relatively well-known by some hockey fans for his recent stint in Vegas as part of the city’s inaugural team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals, a year where the Finn was extremely productive in a middle six role. Most recently, Haula has been a member of the Carolina Hurricanes in more of a depth forward position, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that, at just a few years removed from a 2017-2018 season where he scored 29 goals and 55 points, he can at the very least provide serviceable scoring given the forward depth Nashville will likely be looking at. While his true ability to put up points likely won’t be in the 30-goal neighborhood (24 points in 48 games last year), he’s not a bad player and he’ll help add to a Preds team clearly looking to make the playoffs.
Haula is a really weird player from an evaluation perspective, especially given his recent year-to-year variance. Whenever I watched him on Carolina, he didn’t really seem like the guy who was a scoring machine with the Vegas Golden Knights, but rather more of a volume shooter who didn’t really do a fantastic job of taking the smart chance (welcome, Craig Smith lite!). I didn’t get to see much of him in a Florida Panthers uniform, but given his lackluster production and the fact that the Panthers didn’t bring him back I’m assuming he was just pretty meh. At worst, he turns out to be pretty much done at the NHL level as a legitimate scorer and becomes a bottom-six player with skill (like Kyle Turris last year); the key difference here is that his contract carries extremely little risk to the Predators in both the short and long term, so he could easily become trade bait for another team at the deadline if that happens. At best, John Hynes gets a middle-six player who can put up something in the realm of 40-45 points and ~20 goals while being a good offensive player with plus shooting talent (Haula finished at or above average on his chances in every year of his career, minus the most recent two, so he’s due for some positive regression).
I really like this signing from a value perspective, but I have to question where the Predators are going from here after declaring that they wanted to inject more youth into the lineup this offseason. What kind of roles will be available for Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino now? Does the team feel they aren’t ready anymore? It’s all a bunch of speculation, but it’s interesting that David Poile is making all of these acquisitions so close to the start of training camp. Keep an eye on all of that.
The Predators now have $7,422,190 in cap space (via CapFriendly) and still need to bring back RFA Luke Kunin. Will we get more fireworks in the next few days? Probably not (nobody seems to think Nashville is excited about Mike Hoffman), but with the recent wave of signings, who knows. Stay tuned.