The Nashville Predators go into this season having lost one of their best defensemen in the off-season.
Despite GM David Poile’s best efforts to re-sign Ryan Suter, the blueliner surprised the club and its fans by inking a 13-year, $98-million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
The Predators nearly lost captain Shea Weber as well when he signed an eye-popping 14-year, $110-million offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers. Though Poile subsequently matched the offer, there was briefly genuine concern Weber, too, might depart.
Suter wasn’t the only player to leave Nashville over the summer. Popular physical right winger Jordin Tootoo bolted for the Detroit Red Wings via free agency. Defenseman Francis Bouillon returned to the Montreal Canadiens. Backup goaltender Anders Lindback was shipped to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Right winger Alexander Radulov’s short-lived return was a bust, sending him scuttling back to the friendlier confines of the Kontinental League. Right winger Andrei Kostitsyn, acquired from the Canadiens at the trade deadline, also failed to pan out and was cut loose to free agency.
Poile did, however, re-sign trade deadline acquisitions like center Paul Gaustad and defenseman Hal Gill to multi-year contracts; retain free agent enforcer Brian McGrattan; add veteran blueliner Scott Hannan; and replace Lindback by bringing back Chris Mason.
He also re-upped center Mike Fisher, left winger Sergei Kostitsyn and defenseman Kevin Klein to multi-year contracts.
Suter’s loss will be felt, especially on the power play, but it shouldn’t adversely affect the Predators’ overall defensive game.
They possess depth in promising blueliners (Roman Josi, Jonathon Blum, Ryan Ellis) within their system. Klein could also see more ice time, while Gill and Hannan will provide invaluable experience.
Another reason their defense shouldn’t suffer too much is goaltender Pekka Rinne, a finalist last season for the Vezina Trophy and one of the league’s top netminders.
And, of course, there’s Weber, one of the NHL’s elite defensemen, anticipated to once again be a Norris Trophy candidate.
Despite his lengthy new contract, however, some around the league wonder just how long the cost-conscious Predators can afford him.
Because Weber signed an offer sheet, he cannot be traded over the course of this season, but he does lack a no-trade clause. That’s prompted some speculation about the Predators shopping him next summer especially if the club slips in the standings, or fails to go deep in the playoffs.
The Predators have long carried a reputation as a low-scoring team, but last season they were tied for eighth in goals per game, and had the league’s best power play. Nevertheless, their offensive struggles against the Phoenix Coyotes were a key factor in their second round elimination.
Though lacking a true scoring star, the Predators spread their offensive production last season around their forward lines. Centers Fisher and David Legwand, left winger Kostitsyn, and right wingers Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist are their most reliable offensive forwards.
Still, the Predators were among several clubs with serious interest in right winger Shane Doan prior to his re-signing with the Phoenix Coyotes last month.
Poile’s attempt to bolster his offense with the late-season addition of Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn failed, but his interest in Doan clearly indicates he’ll keep an eye peeled for available – and affordable – offensive depth throughout this season.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.