Comments by Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter last Friday regarding his contract negotiations left pundits talking about how GM David Poile has to decide whether to trade Suter before the Feb. 27 deadline or risk losing him for nothing in the summer as a free agent.
Suter told the media he “didn't see any benefit” in rushing to sign a new contract by the trade deadline, adding he didn't want to be a distraction and instead wanted to focus on helping the Predators make the playoffs.
His comments heightened speculation he’ll test the UFA market, which he subsequently denied, reiterating he didn't want contract negotiations to become a distraction over the remainder of the season, a point he also repeated to Poile to ensure there would be no misunderstanding.
Suter, 27, added he hoped he wouldn't be traded and said he believed the Predators “have a chance to win, we have a pretty good team.”
Given the Predators’ current position in the Western Conference standings (tied for fifth with Chicago, one point behind fourth-place St. Louis), the odds of Suter being traded are slim.
While Poile faces the possibility of losing Suter for nothing in this summer's free agent market, whether or not it actually plays out that way is still very much up in the air.
Poile has $32.7 million invested in 13 players for next season. Assuming the salary floor remains at the current level of $48.3 million, he'd have to spend around $16 million just to become cap compliant.
That would leave more than enough to re-sign Suter, as well as team captain Shea Weber, who's a restricted free agent with no right to arbitration this summer.
In recent years, the Predators haven't spent toward the cap ceiling. Poile, however, has informed Suter and Weber team ownership has agreed to increase spending for next season.
How much of an increase it will be will depend on the next collective bargaining agreement and if there's any sort of reduction in the cap ceiling.
Still, for a team that has operated on a tight budget for several years, the fact ownership is now willing to spend to retain their stars bodes well for keeping Suter in the fold.
If the Predators weren't in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase, Poile might be more inclined to trade Suter by the deadline. If that were the case, the team would be in more of a rebuild mode. But Nashville, winners of 10 of its past 12 games, isn’t a team in need of such a radical move.
It's been suggested Poile could move Suter to bolster his offense, but while the Predators do lack an elite scoring forward, they're not hurting offensively and sit 12th in goals-for per game, with the league's second-best power play. Nine Preds have scored 10 or more goals.
That's not to suggest Poile won’t look to add offensive depth by the trade deadline, just that he’s unlikely to dangle Suter or Weber as trade bait to accomplish it.
If anything, it wouldn't be surprising to see Poile become a buyer in the coming weeks. That mindset from the GM would go a long way towards convincing the two blueliners to remain with the Predators, as it would serve as proof the front office is serious about contending for the Stanley Cup.
Regardless of Suter's free agent status, given the Predators’ performance this season and their Cup aspirations, it makes no sense to ship him out at the trade deadline.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays 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 and Kukla's Korner.