As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. The third batch of Offseason Primers moves to the Western Conference, featuring Central Division teams. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Nashville Predators offseason.
Nashville Predators Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
Over the past few seasons, the Predators and general manager David Poile have spent their offseasons locking up their core pieces long-term. That’s led to a minimal amount of pending free agents this season, as most of their squad is under contract for the foreseeable future. However, their pending free agent lists aren’t completely empty or without merit. Topping their list of unrestricted free agents are Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith, while Dan Hamhuis, Korbinian Holzer, Colin Blackwell, Yannick Weber, Daniel Carr, Troy Grosenick, Matt Donovan, and Frederick Gaudreau round out the list.
Salary Cap Outlook
Via the team’s CapFriendly page, Nashville will be tight to retain some of their pending players. The Predators have only $9.27 million in cap space, however, that’s to be expected from a team that plans to contend. Yet still, Poile will need to make smart, economical moves this offseason in order to ice the best team possible for 2020-21.
Granlund has been viewed as an underperformer ever since his arrival in Smashville last year. Traded from the Minnesota Wild last season in exchange for Kevin Fiala, Granlund has only 35 points in 79 games in a Preds’ uniform. That’s a far cry from his production in Minnesota, where he had two 65-plus-point seasons prior to his trade.
It’s been agreed upon in the hockey community that Granlund’s scoring touch just doesn’t quite match up with the system in Nashville, even after their coaching change. Nashville obviously would not want to invest long-term into a player that may perpetually underperform his value. It’s wise for both parties to opt for a peaceful severance this summer.
At age 37, Hamhuis is now likely done in the NHL. While he’s played over 1,100 games over the past 16 seasons, his play is in full-on decline and provides little-to-no upside to the Preds. His possession metrics have plummeted, and he hasn’t scored a goal in two seasons. He also saw the lowest usage of his career, playing only 14:31 a game.
Hamhuis certainly had a stellar run in the NHL, ending his career where it started in Nashville. While never known for his offensive game (he never scored more than 10 goals in the season), he was a crucial part of the Vancouver Canucks juggernaut of the early 2010’s.
Admittedly, this scenario only has a 50-50 shot of playing out. But the 30-year-old winger has built up quite the following in Nashville, playing 661 games for the team over a nine-year NHL career.
Smith would likely be a highly-sought-after free agent. He’s an affordable piece who can play anywhere in the lineup and provides grit and leadership to any line. And that’s exactly why Nashville would hang onto him. Nashville needs goal-scoring, and while Smith may not replicate 50-point seasons of the past, he meshes well with their lineup. He’d also be cheaper to retain than Granlund.
Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts Nashville hands Smith a three-year contract extension worth $4.12 million a season. Nashville would have $5.15 million left to play with.
Potential Free Agent Additions
Nashville purely doesn’t have the salary flexibility to have a huge roster turnover this offseason. Since most of their players are locked in anyways, they have very little room to add in free agency.
However, this team still needs scoring and depth, and they need it desperately. One strikingly versatile player that stands out is Vladislav Namestnikov. Similar to Smith, Namestnikov has no issues playing anywhere in the lineup. It allows coach John Hynes to throw his line combinations in a blender. That’s something that Nashville has been known to do on frequent occasions.
A Namestnikov acquisition would likely bring the team right up against the cap, but if he produces in the 30-40 point range for the Preds, it might be a worthwhile investment considering their troubles.
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