Preds seeking immediate upgrades through draft, free agency
The Nashville Predators are working to maximize their flexibility with two crucial events over the next eight days -- the NHL draft and start of unrestricted free agency.
Forwards Viktor Stalberg (left -- 18 points last season) and Colin Wilson (right -- 33 points) could be in line for breakout campaigns next year, within the up-tempo offensive schemes of new Predators coach Peter Laviolette.
Mike Strasinger/Russell LaBounty / USA TODAY Sports
By John ManassoFOX Sports Tennessee
The NHL calendar revolves around two key events over the next eight days -- the NHL draft on Friday and start of NHL free agency on July 1.
The Nashville Predators have one major question to answer: How active will the club be in terms of free agency and moving and acquiring roster players?
Regarding the draft, Predators GM David Poile has already discussed the possibility of moving up or down -- Nashville holds the 11th overall pick -- at the recent general managers' meetings.
The Predators, as presently constituted, don't have much in the way of wiggle room unless Poile elects to move some roster players. At this point, that does not seem entirely likely.
The free-agent pool also is fairly thin, in terms of quantity, if not quality.
It'll be interesting to see what kind of imprint new Predators head coach Peter Laviolette will have on both processes (draft/free agency).
Speaking to the media last week, Poile said he has begun the discussions with Laviolette about current players (and down-the-road prospects). In turn, the new coach has already begun talking to players, in terms of establishing roles expectations for the coming season.
A few months ago, whe Poile opted to fire Barry Trotz -- the only coach in franchise history -- he focused on finding a coach with a progressive offensive style, or someone who could squeeze more production out of under-performing players.
Laviolette filled both of Poile's prerequisites for the new coach.
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When speaking to the media, Poile also mentioned two players by name, wing Viktor Stalberg, a 22-goal scorer in 2011-12 who totaled eight goals last season, and center Colin Wilson, a former first-round pick who is 24.
It sounds as if under Laviolette, the Predators plan on giving Stalberg and Wilson new leases on life, indicating the Predators would prefer to keep -- not deal -- both players.
If that is the case, it's not easy to find where the Predators might look to make moves.
Assuming Nashville makes a qualifying offer to forward Nick Spaling at $1.5 million -- and Poile said of the team's four restricted free agents, "I think in due course we'll get these players taken care of" -- the Predators will have 12 forwards back.
Throw in prospect Filip Forsberg, who likely will be on the opening-night roster, and that's 13 -- essentially a full complement for the season.
If the Predators acquire a roster player, something will have to give. Poile would then consider trading the team's first-round draft pick, in pursuit of a top-six forward.
One potential trade partner could the Ottawa Senators, if the Predators are interested in Jason Spezza, who would give Nashville a legitimate threat at center.
For starters, Ottawa, which is in something of a rebuilding mode after missing the playoffs last season, does not have a first-round pick after trading its own to Anaheim last year. The Senators would have picked one spot ahead of Nashville.
Secondly, Senators general manager Bryan Murray and Poile go way back, with Poile having hired Murray to coach Washington when Poile served as the Capitals' general manager in the 1980s. They also pulled off a deal involving Mike Fisher three years ago.
Last week, Murray said he had two serious offers for Spezza -- reportedly from the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues.
(If Nashville elected to trade its first-round pick, it's still possible the Predators could move back into the first round by packaging two second-round picks..) Spezza, 31, was the second overall pick in 2001 and has 687 points in 686 career games, including 66 in 75 games last season. He is the in the final year of his contract ($4 million). However, his cap hit is $7 million.
The salary should make Spezza easy to trade, but his cap hit could prove a hindrance for some teams, although Nashville could fit it in easily.
According to the website CapGeek.com, which tracks NHL salary information, the Predators currently have $50.3 million committed for next season, with the cap expected to be around $70 million. Qualifying offers to their four unrestricted free agents would represent another $6.5 million.
That would give the Preds 23 players under contract, the maximum teams are allowed to carry on an active roster.
The Predators already have a logjam at two of the forward positions, center and right wing. At right wing, Patric Hornqvist (a four-time 20-goal scorer who is an assistant captain ) will likely be staying put. The same likely holds true for Craig Smith, the 24-year-old who had a breakout season with 24 goals.
Forsberg also plays right wing, as does Stalberg.
The Predators could try to bring Forsberg along slowly and play him on the fourth line, but he seems like the type who needs to play with other skilled players.
That also is the case with Stalberg, who floundered playing a bottom-six role last season. Stalberg could move to the left side; but late in the season, the Predators found success with Matt Cullen playing left wing, as they also did with Gabriel Bourque (nine points in his last 17 games) playing mostly with Calle Jarnkrok at center and Smith on the right.
Down the middle, the Predators have Fisher, Jarnkrok, Wilson, Spaling, Paul Gaustad and Cullen, whose natural position is center. Gaustad, a faceoff and defensive specialist, has been the subject of trade rumors in recent months.
In the end, Poile could be eyeing a move that would shake up last season's forward corps.
If that's the case, though, Poile seems to be holding his cards close to the vest.