The Nashville Predators eagerly await Ryan Suter's plans for free agency ahead of the NHL draft.
By JOHN MANASSOFS Tennessee
It's sort of like LeBron James' "The Decision," but without the fanfare of an hour-long nationally televised program.
This one is playing out quietly on a farm somewhere outside of Madison, Wis., with a pro athlete who is decidedly more shy of the spotlight than James but whose decision will have a significant impact on the future of the franchise that drafted him and for which he has played for the last seven seasons.
As the Nashville Predators await pending unrestricted free agent
Ryan Suter's decision, the NHL Draft looms two weeks from Friday. Along with the NHL trading deadline, the draft is one of the two busiest days of the year for making trades. In other words, the clock is ticking.
It's hard to imagine that Predators general manager David Poile would allow Suter, an All-Star last season who will be the most sought-after defenseman on the market as of July 1, to get there without trading the player's rights first.
Complicating matters is that the Preds have major decisions to make on other players, some of which are tied to whether Suter elects to stay in Nashville or to see what riches might await him on the other side of July 1. For one, fellow All-Star Shea Weber, the team's captain and perhaps the favorite to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, is a restricted free agent. The Preds want to enter into serious negotiations with Weber, but Poile is waiting for the Suter situation to resolve itself first.
"I've talked to Shea," Poile said. "I think most everything, as decisions with a lot of players and ourselves, all revolves around Suter, the quality player that he is and the amount of money it will take to anticipate to sign him. It's a little bit of a polarizing situation until he makes his decision."
The Predators no doubt will make a $7.5 million qualifying offer to Weber by June 30 to ensure they retain his rights as a restricted free agent for one last year. But as of July 1, he will be open to an offer sheet from the NHL's 29 other teams. The Preds would have the option of matching it, but, obviously, it would be preferable to negotiate their own terms.
Throw in the fact that Poile could be negotiating a trade for the rights to Alex Radulov while figuring out what to do with 12 other free agents and the man has a full plate right now.
"This is a busy time," said Poile, one given to understatement.
But clearly Suter is the fulcrum around which so much of the organization's planning revolves. That is why Poile went to Suter's home a few weeks ago to get things started.
"I'm not pessimistic," Poile said on Wednesday. "I wish it was done, but I'm not pessimistic, really."
Suter is coming off a four-year contract that has paid him $3.5 million annually — an amount that could easily double, if not more, to go with a lengthy term for the smooth-skating 27-year-old. Recently, the Preds' hand in the negotiations might have been weakened, and Suter's strengthened, when Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the all-time greats, elected to retire at age 42.
Even before Lidstrom's retirement, it was not a well kept secret that the Preds' big-spending Central Division rivals had planned a major play for Suter if he had hit the open market. Now, the Red Wings have a gaping hole on their back line — and another top defender in Brad Stuart could be ready to depart Detroit via free agency for the West Coast — all of which heightens the Wings' urgency to offer Suter as much as they possibly can.
Suter's camp obviously knows this and his asking price to the Preds might have gone up. (Maybe that's one of the reasons why, in the hand-shake line after the Preds ousted the Red Wings in five games in the first round, Nashville coach Barry Trotz asked Lidstrom not to retire.)
One can only wonder what is going on inside Suter's mind as he watches the Los Angeles Kings' standing one game away from a Stanley Cup victory. The Kings entered the playoffs as the Western Conference's No. 8 seed to Nashville's No. 4. Suter could be envisioning himself and the Preds in the Kings' spot had events broken differently. On paper, at least, the Preds looked every bit the Kings' equal, if not more.
Whenever the league and the NHLPA conclude a new collective bargaining agreement, the Preds still might not be among the league's top spenders but Poile and his team have shown the ability to put together a consistent winner, having qualified for the playoffs seven of the last eight seasons — more than most of Suter's suitors can boast.
If Suter and Weber elect to stay and with goalie Pekka Rinne under contract for the next seven years, the Preds could have a contender for years. It's decision time for Suter.