NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators wasted no time using the free-agent market in an attempt to boost their anemic offence.
As the NHL free agency period opened Friday, Nashville added forwards Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom.
The Predators also signed goaltender Carter Hutton to a one-year, two-way contract worth $550,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL level.
“We knew we needed to change,” Predators general manager David Poile said at a Friday news conference. “We knew we needed to improve.”
Nashville scored just 2.27 goals per game this past season to match the Florida Panthers for the lowest average in the NHL. Nashville finished last in the Central Division and 14th in the Western Conference with a 16-23-9 record.
The Predators have invested heavily to avoid a repeat performance.
Stalberg signed a four-year, $12 million deal, Nystrom earned a four-year, $10 million deal, Hendricks will receive $7.4 million over the next four years, and Cullen signed a two-year contract worth $7 million.
“We were very specific in the guys that we wanted, and we went out and got them,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said.
The 27-year-old Stalberg had nine goals and 14 assists in 47 games for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. He appeared in 19 playoff games and had three assists.
Stalberg, a four-year veteran, had 22 goals and 43 assists for the Blackhawks in 2011-12. His contract will pay him $2.5 million each in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and $3.5 million each in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
The Predators believe a change of scenery could improve Stalberg’s production. Stalberg struggled to earn playing time this season on a crowded Blackhawks roster that features star forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
“He has shown flashes of it with Chicago,” Poile said. “He’s got everything you want—size, skating. He’s got the hands. (He had) a tough time getting ahead of Toews, and Kane and Hossa and guys like that. With all due respect, our forwards are not as dynamic as that.”
Nystrom, 30, had seven goals and four assists for Dallas this season. He also had 61 penalty minutes in 48 games. Nystrom had 16 goals and five assists in 74 games in 2011-12. He will make $2 million each of the next two seasons and will receive $3 million each in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
“Obviously playing against (the Predators) for a long time, I know the type of system they play and the type of team that they have, and I think I fit in really well in that system,” Nystrom said on a conference call. “I am so excited to get the season going. I cannot wait.”
The 36-year-old Cullen had seven goals and 20 assists in 42 games for Minnesota this past season. He has 202 career goals and 360 assists in 1,073 regular-season NHL games since 1997-98. His contract will pay him $3 million in 2013-14 and $4 million in 2014-15.
Hendricks, 32, had five goals and three assists in 48 games for Washington. He led the Capitals with 73 penalty minutes and ranked third on the team in face-off efficiency (56.8 per cent). Hendricks has 27 goals and 31 assists in 263 career games. He will receive $1.85 million annually over the next four years.
“I am going to be an energy guy,” Hendricks said on a conference call. “I am going to bring energy to the rink every day, whether it is games or practices, being the sandpaper, being that gritty player that sticks up for his teammates, plays hard, finishes his checks and tries to make it miserable on opponents. The more players you have like that in the lineup, it just becomes easier for everyone else.”
Hutton, 27, played one game for the Blackhawks and 51 games for Rockford of the AHL. He had a 2.72 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage with the IceHogs.
“We have never been this active in free agency and for sure (on) the first day, signing five players,” Poile said. “Free agency can be a whirlwind where people go a little bit crazy. I will let you judge that. We had a clear, definite plan going into this. We wanted to identify specific areas of need, and I think we signed players that fill specific roles for our hockey club. I think all the players that we signed today are going to make us better next year.”