By Jacob Underwood
(Note: As the Predators enter the most important offseason in franchise history (to date), we at 24/7 will take a look at some of the key storylines.)
It’s officially June, and in Smashville that can only mean one thing: the Ryan Suter Saga has reached the homestretch.
Good or bad, it won’t last much longer. By early July, maybe July 1st, we will know where Ryan Suter will be playing next season and beyond. He may sign long-term and stay in Nashville, or he could just as easily sign with Philadelphia, Detroit, Minnesota, Vancouver or any of the other 29 teams in the NHL.
I’m not going to pretend to know exactly what Predators GM David Poile is thinking at this point, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that, more than anything, he wants to ink Suter to a contract that would keep him in Predator Gold for a long time. Poile has made it clear on multiple occasions that he will do just about anything to make that happen.
One has to wonder what exactly it is that Poile can do to ink Suter. Whether you’ve followed this team from near or far, nobody is 100% certain what Suter wants from his future team.
It’s no secret that he wants to win. He wants to play for a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup not only now, but for the foreseeable future. He wants to play where he’s comfortable, citing his family as a factor in that comfort.
After that, any other item that might be high on his list of priorities would be speculation.
Suter is a young 27 years old that has many, many years of hockey left in his body. There’s no reason to believe that he can’t play for another 12 or 13 years, maybe even longer, if he wants to. Defensemen like Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios played past the age of 40; as long as the style of play doesn’t change drastically, Suter could play that long as well.
With that in mind, one has to wonder if Suter is looking for the type of contract that would guarantee him a home for the next decade-plus.
“Wherever I sign I want to be there for the rest of my career, and that affects my family, my wife, my kid – everything plays into it,” Suter said after the season.
Does that mean Suter is looking for a contract that would guarantee him that? A deal for seven years won’t guarantee Suter that his future home, Nashville or not, will be his final home.
We know that Poile is willing to go to great lengths to sign Suter, but is a 12-year contract beyond the lengths Poile can afford to go? In all likelihood, the answer to that question is yes. The question is whether or not that’s what Suter is looking for.
In his end-of-season press conference, Predators GM David Poile noted, “I have a good feeling it’s going to be a difficult contractual situation,” between Suter and the organization. That comment would leave one to assume that Suter is indeed looking for a career-ending contract that would be unprecedented for the Predators’ franchise.
Ticket sales, television ratings and advertising revenues are all on the rise, but the Predators are still a small-market team. While they may be able to afford a 10 to 12 year contract from a financial perspective, the length is another story.
Yes, Predators chairman Tom Cigarran has stated on more than one occasion that the team can be and plans to be a cap team, but there’s a difference in being a cap team and being able to afford a contract of more than seven years in length.
Under the current CBA, the NHL’s insurance plan insures player contracts for seven years. If a player is signed beyond seven years, the remaining years are not covered. This leaves a team like the Predators, a team void of deep pockets, at risk if they sign a player to a contract for more than seven years. Simply put, the organization can’t afford to pay players to sit on injured reserve.
If the franchise couldn’t afford to have Matthew Lombardi on the books when it looked like he may not return from the concussion that sidelined him for all but a few shifts of the 2010-11 season, Suter would seem to be a difficult proposition as well.
So what happens if it all comes down to contract length? On the one hand, you can’t blame Suter if he wants more than seven years. Contrarily, nobody can blame the Predators if they decide they can’t risk it.
The only real possibility that exists is a front-loaded contract that pays Suter a large percentage of his salary in the first five-to-seven years of the deal. Such a deal would help to minimize the risk in the event of a serious injury. That plan isn’t fail-proof either.
The question then becomes, would Shea Weber want a similar contract? The Predators might be able to afford the risk of one 12-year contract, but two?
The other question is whether or not a 12-year deal would reduce the cap hit. Suter’s market value is likely to be in the $7.5-8.5 million range. If the Predators go the extra mile and offer Suter more years, the cap figure has to come down – something that was not done in Pekka Rinne’s seven-year, $49 million contract.
Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, regarded by many as a top-10 defenseman, signed a 13-year deal for $72 million in December of 2009 that will keep him in Chicago through the age of 39. Keith’s cap hit is only $5.53 million; he made more in year one of the contract ($8 million salary, $3 million signing bonus – $11 million total) than he does in the final four years combined ($9.75 million).
A deal like Keith’s wouldn’t be terrible for the Predators, but it would carry some risk (Keith will make a total of $19.25 million in the final 6 years of his deal). Not to mention the difficulty of paying Suter $10 or $11 million in year one – another tall task for an ownership group that has limited resources compared to owners like Philip Anschutz in LA (worth an estimated $7 billion) and Stan Kroenke in Colorado (worth an estimated $3.2 billion).
Poile met with Suter and his agent, Neil Sheehy, on Thursday. Poile and Sheehy both spoke with ESPN.com on Friday. While both sides did their best to toe the company line, Sheehy offered up one comment of interest:
“Both sides were candid with each other. What we agreed to do is to continue our dialogue. Ryan, it’s no secret, loves Nashville. Ryan is just considering a lot of things. But David gave us more things to think about.”
Could that ‘more to think about’ be a new angle on a seven-year deal? Perhaps Poile showed a willingness to offer Suter more than seven years?
For Poile and the Predators, the sooner a resolution can be reached the better.
“[Ryan] knows my feelings as to how it would be certainly in the Nashville Predators’ best interest to sign sooner rather than later, but I’m also well aware I don’t control that,” Poile told ESPN.com.
One thing is for certain: Poile will leave no stone unturned. He’s pulled more rabbits out of his hat than David Copperfield, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again with Suter.