Surveying the Nashville Predators' Free Agent Landscape

The Preds have a number of players, both restricted and unrestricted, that they need to make decisions on in the next couple of months.

Before we delve into the perilous waters of NHL free agency, (which is looking sparse, to say the least) the Nashville Predators have their own crop of players to take care of. All told, there are 11 players (5 RFA and 6 UFA) and a handful of minor league players that currently have futures up in the air.

Some are more likely to be back than others, and some for sure are gone.

All contract and term info courtesy of General Fanager

The Restricted Free Agents

Qualifying Offers

In order for a team to retain the rights of a restricted free agent, they have to at least tender him a qualifying offer. The RFA does not have to accept the offer, but it will allow the two parties to continue negotiations. If no qualifying offer is made, the player then becomes an unrestricted free agent. Figures are as follows:

Previous Season Salary Qualifying Offer
$660,000 or less No less than 110% of player's salary
$660,001 - $952,380 105% of player's salary
$952,381 - $999,9999 $1 million in salary
$1 million or more 100% of player's salary

Gabriel Bourque

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Est. Qualifying Offer Chance of Re-Signing
$825,000 $775,000 $775,000 $866,250 Medium

Bourque was nothing special in terms of production or usage this past season, and his role would likely be similar going forward. It's possible he could fill in a spot left vacant by one of the leaving UFAs, but that also depends on free agency and training camp.

He won't (read: shouldn't) cost a whole lot, so if there can be use for him outside of the press box next year it won't cripple the team to bring him back.

Taylor Beck

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Est. Qualifying Offer Chance of Re-Signing
$550,000 $550,000 $550,000 $605,000 Medium

Beck is in a very similar situation as Bourque, though his ceiling isn't nearly as high and his expectations are much lower. He'll be a fourth-line player (at best) in Nashville, or wherever he plays.

The fact of the matter is a player like Beck is replaceable. However, coming to last year's training camp without a contract and landing a one-way deal speaks to the work ethic of Beck. Especially as Nashville draft pick that has been toiling in the minors for so long.

Calle Jarnkrok

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Est. Qualifying Offer Chance of Re-Signing
$790,000 $715,000 $900,000 $829,500 High

It's hard to say whether Jarnkrok took a step back or not last year, simply because the quality of his teammates was marginal all year. Calle was essentially stapled to the 3C spot, with a few stints on the wing and in the press box. After he stormed out of the gate at the end of 2014, 7 goals and 11 assists may seem like a huge disappointment.

Yet his possession numbers were solid, and he generally helped his teammates perform better than when they were away from him. Is he going to be the future 2C of this team? Probably not, especially if Mike Fisher returns. He also hasn't shown he can realistically be put in that role. But a one- or two-year "show me" deal could be exactly what he needs. Let him play his role and find his game while the team around him gets better. Then make the final call.

Colin Wilson

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Est. Qualifying Offer Chance of Re-Signing
$2,500,000 $2,000,000 $2,000,000 $2,500,000 High

Despite his late-season disappearing act, Wilson set personal records in nearly every category he could this year. He broke the 20-goal mark, notched 42 points, obliterated his previous shot record by firing 172 on net, all while being one of the best possession players on the team. He also contributed five goals in six playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks.

That should be more than enough to warrant another deal, and the Predators need all the homegrown scoring help they can get. Whether it will be a long-term deal or not is the big question. Four points in the final two-and-a-half months brought up the consistency demons that have plagued him in the past. Is that going to knock his price/term down a peg, or is the organization comfortable assuming that was just a very rough patch in an otherwise glorious season? We'll see.

Craig Smith

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Est. Qualifying Offer Chance of Re-Signing
$2,000,000 $2,000,000 $2,000,000 $2,000,000 High

Like Wilson, Smith showed the organization why they would be fools not to pay him a bunch of money. Another 20+ goal campaign continued the emergence he started last year. Smith was also trusted with top-line duties for a good chunk of the season, supplanting James Neal on the wing. Not a move to be taken lightly.

Ultimately, if Nashville wants him (and they by every means should) they will fork over the necessary cash. It won't be a tremendous amount, but it also won't be cheap.

Offer Sheets

While offer sheets are extremely rare, they do happen from time to time. In the event a player signs one with another team, the original team has seven days to match that deal or let the player walk. However, the signing team has to offer up draft picks as compensation. The amount and type of picks depend on the size of the contract offered. In a recent 30 Thoughts, Elliot Friedman detail the terms of this year's compensation:

AAV Compensation
Less than $1,205,377 Nothing
$1,205,377 - $1,826,328 Third-round pick
$1,826,328 - $3,652,659 Second-round pick
$3,652,659 - $5,478,986 First and third-round picks
$5,478,986 - $7,305,316 First, second and third-round picks
$7,305,316 - $9,131,645 Two firsts, a second and third-round picks
$9,131,645 - greater Four first-round picks

It seems very unlikely that the top-two RFAs, Wilson and Smith, are going to be in demand enough to command an offer sheet.

The Unrestricted Free Agents

Mike Fisher

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Big Payday Coming? Chance of Re-Signing
$4,200,000 $4,200,000 $4,200,000 No High

Fisher has been thinking about staying with the Predators for most of the year. David Poile feels the same way, and given Fisher's personal life in and around Nashville, something could easily be worked out. He's proven himself a valuable player in every situation, and his leadership is going to be hard to replace.

On the other hand, at (soon to be) 35, this is going to be his last chance at a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. Depending on how many miles Fisher has left in him, there's likely a GM out there that will pay a chunk of change for a third-line player with second-line potential. If that's what he's looking for, the option is there.

For Nashville, another couple of years at a modest price could be in the cards. Especially since his role may see itself diminishing as his age climbs and new talent makes its way on to the roster.

Matt Cullen

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Big Payday Coming? Chance of Re-Signing
$4,000,000 $3,500,000 $3,500,000 No Low

Not only is Cullen going to see his time on the Predators end, he may be seeing his time in the NHL end as well. The 38-year-old's career has spanned nearly 17 seasons and 7 teams with a Stanley Cup ring to show for it. If he decides to hang up his skates today, it will have been an impressive and successful ride that not many players could say they've had. If he wants to keep going, it will almost assuredly be with another team.

This will also mark the first free agent of that infamous summer spending spree to have his contract expire. Ah, memories.

Mike Santorelli

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Big Payday Coming? Chance of Re-Signing
$1,500,000 $1,500,000 $1,500,000 No Low

Brought in to provide bottom-six scoring and instead potted just a single goal. He'll find a home this summer, it just won't be Nashville.

Mike Ribeiro

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Big Payday Coming? Chance of Re-Signing
$1,050,000 $1,050,000 $1,050,000 Yes Medium-High

The biggest UFA in Nashville's crop (sorry, Fish) has plenty of questions surrounding him. How much did his prolific resurgence increase his worth? Will he want to put Nashville first in line in a bidding war, since they took a chance on him last year? Would he take a discount because of that? Are the legal problems going to sour his ability to land another job?

At this point, if Ribeiro comes back he's going to be the first-line center. He'll likely want his new contract to reflect that. As we've mentioned plenty on this blog before, a two- or three-year deal may not be terrible, but the latter would take him through his 38th birthday. That's a lot of term and (possibly) money for an age range that is usually very unproductive.

Of course, without Ribs as the 1C, the Preds' depth chart takes a huge hit. In a perfect world, Nashville trades for one and starts the season with Unicorn-Ribeiro-Fisher down the middle. This isn't a perfect world, though, and the thought of a gaping hole at center is terrifying.

Buckle your seatbelts and grip the grab bar as this saga gets underway.

Cody Franson

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Big Payday Coming? Chance of Re-Signing
$3,300,000 $3,300,000 $3,300,000 Yes Zero

Are you guys as tired of talking about how he won't be back as we are?

Anton Volchenkov

2014-15 Salary Cap Hit AAV Big Payday Coming? Chance of Re-Signing
$1,000,000 $1,000,000 $1,000,000 No Low

Early in the season, Volchenkov was a great complement to Seth Jones, as a vastly underrated free agent signing. He wasn't relied on to score or take tough assignments, and he performed well in that role. That was until The Trade, when he was phased out by Franson. By the time the season ended and Weber was injured in the playoffs, Volchenkov was second fiddle to Victor Bartley, likely spelling the end of his time in Nashville.

Maybe it was his lack of speed, or maybe it was because his targeting computer kept identifying Pekka Rinne as a threat. Either way, he fell out of favor with the coaching staff and will try to find a new home this summer.

Update: Volchenkov's agent has reportedly said he's had discussions with the Preds on a contract extension. Looks like any talk of finding a new home may be a bit premature at this time. We'll see how it goes.

Free Agents in the System

The Predators also have a few players in the minor leagues they need to decide on.

Austin Watson - RFA

Similar to Beck, has been toiling in the minors for years. Unlike Beck, Watson is a first-round pick, selected 18th overall in 2010. He hasn't totally missed his window to make it to the NHL, but his time is certainly running out, especially as part of the Preds organization. But with a few spots opening up this summer, he can try to stake his claim at training camp if they decide to bring him back.

Magnus Hellberg - RFA

Juuse Saros seems to bet set to play in North America next year, and former RFA Marek Mazanec has already been re-signed. Could Hellberg be a trade chip? Are they letting him walk? Are they just taking their time on bringing him back?

Anthony Bitetto - RFA

Saw a couple of call ups this year, so another two-way contract shouldn't be out of the question.

Zach Budish - RFA

Taylor Aronson - RFA

Joe Piskula - UFA

Kevin Henderson - UFA

Mark Van Guilder - UFA