Goalie Pekka Rinne’s hip surgery and subsequent need of four months’ recovery time wasn’t the only injury-related news involving the Predators on Thursday.
Center Colin Wilson had a procedure on his left shoulder, similar to the one performed on his right shoulder a few weeks ago. General manager David Poile said the injury was a “subluxation,” or dislocation, just like the other. The rehabilitation period for that injury is also four months, meaning Poile expects Wilson to be ready around the start of training camp.
The same was true of Matt Halischuk, who injured his shoulder with about three games left in the regular season.
What does all of this mean as the Predators begin the process of crafting their roster for next season? For starters, it could mean they’ll pursue a backup goalie who is capable of playing a No. 1-type role, if necessary in the early part of the season.
Among the potential unrestricted free agents is Mathieu Garon, who is 35 and coming off a two-year deal that averaged $1.3 million, an affordable sum for the Predators. Garon’s numbers aren’t great, but he has competed on some terrible defensive teams the last few seasons (Columbus, Tampa Bay).
One plus is that he played 48 games as recently as last season and has that battler type of mentality that helps to keep teams in games when they don’t have their No. 1. It would seem doubtful the Preds might stay within the organization at that spot and go with 2008 first-round pick Chet Pickard, who has no NHL experience.
Otherwise, after back-to-back summers of major free-agent anxiety, all should be mostly quiet on the free-agent front for the Predators when July 1 comes around. They have 16 players under contract for a total of $47.28 million committed, according to the Web site CapGeek.com, which tracks NHL salary information.
The league’s spending floor is $44 million and the ceiling is $64.3 million, giving the Preds roughly $17 million in cap room.
Their major, if it can be deemed that, unrestricted free agent of any consequence is forward Brandon Yip, who has mainly played a third- and fourth-line role. Their biggest priority will be signing restricted free agent defenseman Roman Josi, who plays on the top pair.
Other important RFAs are center Nick Spaling, who showed more of an offensive upside given the opportunity last season, and defensemen Victor Bartley and Jon Blum.
ThePreds’ biggest transformation is likely to come through trades, not necessarily through free agency. Coach Barry Trotz has made it clear the Predators need to get bigger at forward and had strong words for forwards Sergei Kostitsyn and Craig Smith, each of whom grossly underperformed last season, putting their status in question for next year.
“We expected production from Sergei and Craig Smith and we got none,” Trotz told reporters in his season-ending press conference on April 29.
In terms of size, the Predators could get bigger without having to make any moves if 6-foot-2, 203-pound forward Taylor Beck, 21, (seven points in 16 games last season) makes the team out of the gate. The same would be true of 19-year-old Filip Forsberg (6-1, 188). Austin Watson (6-4, 193), 21, the Preds’ first-round pick in 2010, is another possibility up front.
What makes the Predators intriguing is what they might be able to do if other teams dump players for salary cap reasons, as the cap will decrease by about $6 million from its current level.
In addition, for the first time, Nashville could be in a position to take advantage of a new provision in the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, allowing teams to trade a certain player, while absorbing some of his salary.
For example, the New York Rangers have $51.5 million committed to 18 players and three key RFAs will likely receive considerable raises: Derek Stepan, who led the Rangers in points this past season, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who ranked third on the team in average time on ice, and forward Carl Hagelin (fifth on the team in points). All earned less than $1 million last season.
As a result, a potential target could be Brad Richards, who would give the Predators a natural No. 1 center who can play the Preds’ type of two-way game. Richards’ current deal averages $6.67 million, but starting next season in actual dollars over the next seven years, it will average $5.14 million — about $1.6 million more than what David Legwand gets next season — and is only $1 million each of the final three seasons.
If the Rangers offer to take back just a small portion of the salary, it could make Richards, who brings the added bonus of being a Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, extremely attractive — if the Rangers are in a mood to move him.
Whatever roster moves the Predators end up making, Trotz’s goal is to “add sandpaper to our lineup.”
“We were too easy to play against this year,” he said.
The Predators believe this season was an aberration. With a full season, a healthy lineup and more practice time, ”they ought to be able to get back to the playoffs in 2014 for the eighth time in 10 seasons.
“We’re not that far off,” Trotz said. “We’re going to be back in a good place. We’re going to be back very quickly.”