How should Nashville address its needs at center?
Nashville, Tenn. -- Much can be said about what Nashville plans to do next season to bolster what it has down the middle.
The two Mike's, Fisher and Ribeiro, are both actively working alongside their respective agents and general manager David Poile to potentially resume their role with the Predators. Paul Gaustad remains, for all intents and purposes, the only true center signed to Nashville's active roster for the 2015-16 season.
Calle Jarnkrok, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith are all considered centers but only one of them -- in this case, Jarnkrok -- was used specifically as a center for the majority of the season. All three are currently restricted free agents.
Of those three in particular, my guess would be that only two of them return.
When all of the variables are added to the final equation, even with the potential return of both Fisher and Ribeiro, the Predators aren't exactly the deepest team at the center position, nor have they been that way throughout their history.
So what can Nashville do to improve upon its most obvious flaw? Even with the abundance of centermen that have been signed to the team over the past handful of seasons?
The first, and most obvious, order of business would be to take care of existing matters and determine the ultimate status of Nashville's trio of aforementioned restricted free agents.
While Smith and Wilson are the more high-profile free agents of the three, Jarnkrok still remains a key player that needs to return to the Predators. At only 23 years old, Jarnkrok continues to learn and improve upon what he can offer Nashville.
His performance in the Predators first round series against Chicago proved that Jarnkrok could also be on the cusp of breaking out of a proverbial shell that seemed to surround the young Swedish forward since Nashville acquired him in the trade that sent David Legwand to the Detroit Red Wings.
Even if both Smith and Wilson return to the Predators, neither will likely play as a center under head coach Peter Laviolette's current system. Both have excelled on the wing and there would be zero reason to move them away from where they've played some of the best hockey during their careers.
Moving forward, Nashville could take a look at the upcoming free agent market once open bidding begins early next month.
Including the probable obvious addition of Matt Cullen to the free agent pool, this year's available player list isn't necessarily the deepest in recent offseasons. In fact, the talent available at center will probably force Nashville to overpay for a player who may not be the first or second line center that the Predators are hoping to bring in for the foreseeable future.
Outside of drafting what the organization could hope to see develop into the franchise center they'll eventually need -- or perhaps provide Austin Watson and Colton Sissons a chance to see what they can accomplish under Laviolette -- the only foreseeable option left would be for Nashville to make a trade.
Which isn't out of the realm of possibility, especially with the pieces that the Predators have currently available at their disposal.
Touching on whispers that I've heard recently from varying sources, Nashville could possibly try to make a deal with the Edmonton Oilers to bring one of their highly talented young forwards into the fold to help boost the Predators lineup.
Nashville has a plethora of free agent rights at its disposal. Included amongst those lies the rights to goaltender Magnus Hellberg. With Pekka Rinne, Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros at their disposal for the upcoming season, the Predators have to find something to do with Hellberg -- whether it be tendering a qualifying offer to him or trading his rights away.
As the cupboard overflows with the current smorgasbord of talent between the net, Hellberg seems destined to have his rights traded away prior to seeing a contract tendered his way by the Predators.
Pair the rights of a tall, 24-year-old developing goaltender that has a high ceiling along with a piece that would ultimately be deemed expendable by the Predators for the return that they're wanting, and you could see the Oilers sign off on a potential trade that could see Nashville landing a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on its roster.
Granted, what Edmonton would need in return would undoubtedly be a highly-skilled, under contract defenseman to sweeten the deal.
Could a package of Ryan Ellis and the rights to Magnus Hellberg be enough to bring in a truly elite center like Nugent-Hopkins, one that Nashville has yearned for since its inception? Would it be enough for new general manager Peter Chiarelli to pull the trigger?
Fisher and Ribeiro are a solution to a temporary problem. Both are 35 years old and Nashville can't expect Jarnkrok, Smith or Wilson -- if in the slim case all three return -- to carry the load in the future.
It's extremely unlikely that the Predators are going to be bad enough over the next handful of years to earn a player through the draft like Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby or the upcoming Connor McDavid.
Ultimately, Nashville will have to play the high-risk, high-reward card in terms of adding elite talent to its roster.
Regardless of how it happens, the center position for the Predators remains an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Especially if Nashville wants to truly be a contender for the Stanley Cup.