In adding forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad prior to Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, the Nashville Predators feel they have better positioned themselves to compete in the tough Western Conference down the stretch of the regular season and into the fast-approaching Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While bringing Kostitsyn, Gaustad, and Hal Gill into the Nashville fold in the last ten days, the fact is that all three are slated to become unrestricted free agents July 1st.
In his press conference wrapping all of the trade deadline activities, Predators general manager David Poile touched on one of the subjects that has been an elephant in the room at 501 Broadway since the conclusion of last season – the status of defenseman Ryan Suter, who can also become an unrestricted free agent on July’s first day if he is not re-signed before the free agent feeding frenzy is set to begin prior to the start of the 2012-13 season.
“All of our thoughts are about signing Ryan,” Poile said. “And obviously we hope the moves today show Ryan and all the players that ownership is committed.”
Ownership may be committed, but the contract statuses of the new players only show a commitment that goes as far as the team does this season. Suter is already signed through the remainder of this season, so these trades have virtually no impact on what he likely thinks of the organization’s opportunity to win the Stanley Cup beyond this June.
These trades may very well make them a better team. The defense and penalty killing look better in the five games since the gigantic Gill has first pulled on a Predators sweater.
Kostitsyn and Gaustad are question marks though. The former has struggled this season, but that could purely be a function of the mess that is the Montreal Canadiens. There is also the matter of Andrei’s little brother Sergei doing well in his almost two seasons as a Predator. Will Andrei’s presence affect Sergei’s rhythm in his role in Nashville? Maybe not; the dynamic in Nashville is a world apart from Montreal in terms of how the organizations are structured, managed, and coached.
Like Gill, Gaustad is a big body, and he is a faceoff whiz to boot. On paper, his acquisition looks good, but the team has been playing well without him, and in order to put Gaustad and Kostitsyn on the ice, two forwards will have to be subtracted from it. Messing with something that is working can have adverse effects on a team, and replacing one-sixth of your forwards could mess with what has been working.
Both Suter and his Norris Trophy candidate defensive partner Shea Weber have said that before committing to the Predators long term, they want to be sure the team is in position to compete every year.
Gill, Gaustad, and Andrei Kostitsyn could all like Nashville and the team and re-sign here. Then again, they could all go elsewhere this summer.
Ryan Ellis was the odd defenseman out when Gill joined the Predators. Who will be the two forwards on the outside looking in when Monday’s trade targets join the team in Carolina? Craig Smith? Gabriel Bourque? Brandon Yip?
Maybe Suter and Weber have seen enough of the potential that lies within Ellis, Smith, and Bourque and could be convinced that they will be able to help the Predators in future Cup runs.
Suter is going to get paid either before or on July 1st; like somewhere in the seven to eight (and possibly more) million-dollar range, paid. If he is unable to reach common ground with the Predators before then, teams will be lining up to sign the American star when the free agency period begins on July 1 assuming the Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place.
After prolonged negotiations failed to produce a new deal for Weber last summer, the parties went to team-elected arbitration, where Weber was awarded a one-year, $7.5 million contract for the 2011-12 season.
Weber’s situation is somewhat less dire than Suter’s because the captain can only become a restricted free agent this off season, that is unless Weber is able to sign a new deal before then. The odds of that happening are somewhere between slim and none though since Weber too wants to see the team’s long-term plan for success before signing his name to a long contract.
The team can’t elect to take him to arbitration again. He can take the Predators through the process if he so chooses, or else just decide to work out a one-year (possibly longer, but unlikely) deal. Other teams could try to sign him to an offer sheet, but the odds of him signing one are remote. If he signs an offer sheet, the Predators have the opportunity to match it, and if he really wants out of Nashville, he would be stuck here for the entirety of the contract length on that offer sheet.
If Poile was able to somehow land a player with some years left on his deal, it would have been easier to make an argument for Suter and Weber to come back. The asking price for Rick Nash in Columbus was believed to be astronomical, and Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson probably would not have sent him to a division rival that has had their number since they entered the league anyway.
A trade like that didn’t materialize and Poile acquired what he could with what he had. He obviously believes that these players are key to a long playoff run, the draft picks he surrendered to get them are evidence of that fact.
Predators chairman Tom Cigarran has said on previous occasions that if players like Suter and Weber do not re-sign with Nashville, it will not be because of money. The contract offers already made to Suter and Weber have already proven that to the players, but still no signatures as of yet.
While the Predators are playing well as the regular season hits its quarter pole, questions will still hound whether or not this team can bring back either or both of its All-Star defensemen for next season and beyond.
Monday’s transactions raised the excitement level in Nashville and brought the eyes of the league onto Nashville. What it did not do is change things for the team beyond June 30th; well yet anyway.