NASHVILLE – With one of their three key free agents signed to a long-term deal, the Nashville Predators will try to topple another domino when the agent for Ryan Suter and Predators GM David Poile conduct face-to-face negotiations Wednesday.
Neil Sheehy, who represents pending unrestricted free agent Suter, arrived in Nashville Tuesday afternoon and will meet with Suter Wednesday before sitting down for substantive negotiations with Poile, either later Wednesday or Thursday.
And while there is no reason to expect an agreement is imminent, it would be unwise to rule out the possibility of Suter being signed to a long-term deal by the end of the week.
“I can’t tell you I’m expecting there will be a deal tomorrow or the next day,” Sheehy said, “but anything is possible. I don’t foresee it, but if something drops into your lap that’s too good to be true, you want to do the deal.”
And even though there is still work to do, does that sound to you like an agent who isn’t at least cautiously optimistic a deal can be worked out? Some observers believe the template for a deal was put in place when goaltender Pekka Rinne signed his seven-year, $49-million deal recently. Should the Predators manage to get Suter under contract long-term for about the same amount and pending restricted free agent Shea Weber accepts his qualifying offer for the same $7.5 million he’s making this season, that would have the Predators paying in excess of $20 million for three players next season.
That certainly doesn’t fit the team’s profile, but there have been rumblings Poile has gone to the new ownership group and told them that the Preds’ window for contending for a championship is now and if they have any hope of doing that, they may have to approach the upper limit of the salary cap.
The Predators have never had more stability or been in better shape financially, but can their business model even at the best of times support those kinds of salaries? For instance, the Predators had a special for Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals, a team that traditionally has been one of the better draws in the league, where fans could purchase two tickets in the upper bowl for $49 or two in the lower bowl for $99. They’re also running a promotion that offers one ticket to each of the Predators’ final 21 home games for $1,000, which comes to just less than $50 per ticket. For the Predators-Toronto Maple Leafs game Thursday night, they are offering college students upper bowl tickets for $15 and lower bowl tickets for $25.
Sheehy doesn’t particularly buy the notion the Suter contract will be easier to complete simply because Rinne, a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy and a fourth-place finisher in Hart Trophy voting, is under contract.
“Everyone talks about the big three, but I guess it depends on where you think Ryan was before the Rinne deal was signed,” Sheehy said. “Was he behind Rinne or even or ahead of Rinne? It’s great that they were able to sign Rinne, but the Rinne signing was on Rinne’s timetable and it’s not on Ryan Suter’s timetable.”
It’s also hard to fathom discussions would not be amicable and fruitful. If the two sides were large chasms apart in terms of their expectations, you’d have to think they’d both be content to simply allow things to play themselves out a little longer.
So you can likely look for Suter to get done, if not in the next couple of days, at some point in the not-too-distant future. Then the interesting time begins for the Predators. If they decide to keep Weber, they’re still probably an offensively gifted player away from seriously contending. That will cost money. If they don’t have it, then perhaps the best route would be to make the best deal they can right now for Weber and try to achieve contender status with Rinne, Suter and what they could get in exchange for Weber.
“I have been very candid with David and he has been very candid with me,” Sheehy said. “All the discussions I’ve had with Ryan, he likes it here and Nashville likes him. He doesn’t have a burning desire to go somewhere else."
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.