NHL free agency begins on July 1, but mum has been the word for the Nashville Predators thus far. Aside from a few murmurs of John Tavares, the emphasis for David Poile and Co. appears to be primarily focused on re-signing Ryan Ellis. Now it also looks like the Preds are officially out on the Tavares sweepstakes, despite my best efforts. I apologize to all of Nashville for coming up short there. So who should the Preds target in free agency 2019? Great question. Hockey 615 is here to answer that for you.
Before we dive into candidates for the Preds to sign on Sunday, let’s look at their current cap situation. According to CapFriendly, the Predators have roughly $12 million in cap space. That sounds like a whole mess of dough, but it goes pretty fast. Nashville has three RFAs that need re-signing — Miikka Salomaki, Ryan Hartman, and Juuse Saros. Let’s say they all sign for a combined $4 million. That may even be a conservative estimation. That would give the Predators $8 million to play with this season. Let’s also look ahead to next summer as well because that will affect decisions made by Poile as well. Ryan Ellis will be an unrestricted free agent, but Poile is working to re-sign him this summer. I’d say Ellis should get no more than $6.5 million per season. The other big name coming up next summer is Pekka Rinne. His $7 million cap hit will come off the books. He could possibly re-sign, and I hope he does because I don’t want to ball my eyes out. Even if he were to come back, it would be for far less than he gets now. The player that may be due a big raise in the summer of 2019 is Kevin Fiala. He’s on the final year of his entry-level deal and may look to get paid, but he will still be under team control as a restricted free agent. It’s also important to note that Viktor Stalberg’s buyout money ($1.16 million) comes off the books in 2019. Colton Sissons and Anthony Bitetto may also need new deals next summer.
Now that the housekeeping is out of the way, let’s get into the fun stuff. Here are the players David Poile should target on Sunday. You’re welcome for the help, Dave. Season tickets is all I ask.
James Neal, RW/LW – The prodigal son returns. If there was an empty hole in my life during the 2018-19 Nashville Predators season, it was not being able to tweet #REALDEALJAMESNEAL after he sniped the opposing goalie. I need that small pleasure back in my life. The Predators need a scoring winger — especially a power forward. James Neal is just that. He knows the system. He knows a large bulk of the team. The rumor is that he still owns his house in Nashville. Don’t look that up and ruin it for me. Moving is hard, Jim. Just come back. If he can overcome some hard feelings after being exposed in the expansion draft, I’d be over the moon to have him back. Neal is the modern day Marian Hossa. He’s been on the losing end of the last two Stanley Cup Finals, and third time must be the charm. If only there was a team already capable of winning a Cup. He’ll command decent money, but I wouldn’t mind throwing between $6 million and $7 million at him over the next few years. I need him back in my life.
James van Riemsdyk, LW – Outside of Neal and Van Riemsdyk, the market for scoring wingers is pretty limited. Odds are that he’ll get way more money from some team not named the Nashville Predator, but you at least have to try. Van Riemsdyk is similar to Neal in that he can put the puck in the net and is not afraid to go into the corners or the front of the net in order to do so. I’d take him on the Predators any day of the week. For the Preds to sign him, he’s probably have to take around the same money as Neal. I just think he’ll command more money elsewhere. Hopefully the Preds can pitch him on a chance to win immediately.
Calvin De Haan, D – Another need for the Predators is to get one more defenseman in an attempt to solidify that third pairing. Frankly, I like Yannick Weber on that third pair. He just needs someone to play with. I wouldn’t mind seeing de Haan by his side. Yes, the Islanders were a steaming pile of dog shit on defense this past season, but that’s not necessarily an indictment on de Haan. In this humble blogger’s opinion, de Haan is an upgrade over every third pairing defenseman currently on Nashville’s roster. The Isles weren’t great with de Haan on the ice, but they were way worse without him. He could be a great value signing for Poile.
Paul Martin, D – After being bought out by the Sharks, Martin could be a target for the Poile special (1 year at $1 million). He’s 37-years old, but he could still be effective in a third pairing role. Martin seems like the type of guy a dumb GM would overpay just to have a veteran defenseman on the roster, but I would welcome Martin at the right price. If the Preds can get a reasonable deal, it would be worth a shot to let him anchor the bottom pairing in Smashville.
Matt Calvert, LW – If the Predators are looking for some NHL-caliber forward depth, Calvert may be their guy. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard but he’d be a nice addition on the third or fourth line. A majority of Calvert’s shots come from right in front of the net. That makes him a candidate for Nashville. The Preds struggled to consistently get bodies in front of the cage, and Calvert is more than willing to do that. Calvert would also be a fairly inexpensive option for Poile.
Rick Nash, RW/LW – This is definitely a long shot and highly dependent on the price and length — as most contracts are. There is even some belief that Nash may retire instead of playing this season. If Nash wants to contribute on a contender in order to get his name on Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Predators would be a decent option. Nash is far from the player he was, but he could be a good slot option on the power play. From what I watched of Nash, he’s adapted his game to getting to the front of the net and looking for garbage goals. I wouldn’t mind having more of that on the Preds, if that wasn’t clear already. He’d have to take a very team-friendly deal, but he can still contribute some offense in a depth role. Also, I’d buy a NASH hat.
When Sunday rolls around, I wouldn’t anticipate the Preds making any splashy moves outside of maybe signing Neal. The priority for the team may be making sure Ellis gets re-signed. Even if they don’t land anyone notable, that may not be a bad thing. The Preds still have a roster to win the Stanley Cup and would have plenty of cap space to make a trade in the season if they wanted. As fun as it is to be in the middle of the free agent frenzy, don’t be too upset if Poile stays quiet. This roster is loaded — with or without any flashy signings.