The Nashville Predators went deeper into the playoffs this post-season than the franchise had ever been before, but that doesn’t mean GM David Poile is going to stand pat and be happy just to contend. Changes are coming for the Predators, and Poile made clear that two veteran players won’t be around for the 2016-17 campaign.
During his end of season meeting with the media, Poile said the Predators will be parting ways with Eric Nystrom and Paul Gaustad this off-season. That means next year’s Nashville squad will look younger than it did this past season and could resemble a team closer to what was seen during the latter stages of the playoffs than the one that was together for the bulk of the regular season.
Gaustad, 34, was a big part of the group in the post-season and was especially relied upon to win important faceoffs, but Poile said the Predators are prepared to let Gaustad walk in free agency. Poile said that while he loves Gaustad as both a person and player, citing his faceoff ability and ability to step up his game in the playoffs, the team is “going a different direction.”
The more tricky one, however, will by moving Nystrom, 33, who still has one year and $2.5 million left on his deal. If the Predators can’t trade Nystrom, the two sides will be “going in our separate directions,” which means a buyout for the veteran winger could be on the horizon.
Nystrom played in 46 games for the Predators this past season and had seven points, all goals, but he was only in the lineup for a single playoff game. After his 9:22 of ice time against the San Jose Sharks in Game 1, Nystrom was not back in the lineup for the remainder of the second-round series.
In all likelihood, the bottom six will be filled by younger, faster players such as Calle Jarnkrok, Miikka Salomaki, Viktor Arvidsson, Gabriel Bourque and Colton Sissons, who Poile called the “heir apparent to take Paul Gaustad’s place on a more regular basis.”
“Our bottom six have really improved — if I’m calling those the third and fourth lines — have really improved and are going to improve more,” Poile said. “I think we’re going to get more secondary scoring than we ever have before.”
Overall, though, it doesn’t sound like the changes Poile makes are going to see the Predators go out and make a splash in free agency. There are key restricted free agent signings to be made, including Jarnkrok, Filip Forsberg and prospect goaltender Marek Mazanec, as well as one player the Predators are seeking to bring back in backup netminder Carter Hutton. Most of the other changes, though, could be seen in graduating part-time AHLers to full-time NHL gigs.
“If you look at the last two or three years, in my mind we have made lots of changes,” Poile said. “Everyday I’m liking more and more where we are. I’m liking what (the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals) had this year, the depth they have and the younger players coming up. I would probably first like to promote within than to go out to get a free agent.”