During Friday’s press conference with local media, Predators GM David Poile said that pending free agent Ryan Suter, in all likelihood, will test free agency come July 1st.
This news should come as no surprise, as 29 other teams will certainly be interested in signing a player, a defenseman of Suter’s caliber. At 27 years old and seeking a contract where he can finish his career, this is the one time Suter can really cash in, and he’s going to take his time making a decision.
With Suter set to test the free agent waters, many wonder why Poile is reluctant to trade the star defenseman’s negotiating rights. When asked about the possibility of a trade, Poile cited loyalty as a determining factor.
“We have been very loyal to Ryan. We are sticking with that,” the long-time Predators GM said. “We have never tried to trade him or entertain any offers for him. He’s never said that he doesn’t want to play for us; he’s just said that he wants to take a look – so I’m trying to show as much faith as I possibly can show in this situation.”
Not only is loyalty keeping Poile from capitalizing on those negotiating rights, but he also hopes Suter is loyal in return.
“I don’t know why he wouldn’t want to play for the Predators. I don’t know why he wouldn’t want to be paired with Shea Weber for the rest of his career. I hope he’s weighing all those factors before he makes his decision,” Poile said.
Nashville is the only organization Suter has ever known. He was drafted seventh overall by the Predators in 2003 (in Nashville, no less), and he and Weber have been co-patrolling the Predators’ blue line for a good five seasons now. Not only were those two were at the center of the whole ‘changing of the guard’ from veterans to youth the last two years, but they are the core of the team’s leadership group.
Poile admitted Friday that he is worried that Suter will indeed be testing free agency. The free agent frenzy is such an unpredictable time where careless money is thrown around, so there’s no telling what kind of offer a team like Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia or anyone else has up their sleeve for Suter.
“I wish this was over and he was signed, and I’ve said that to him,” Poile said. “If this was his first choice and if he could make his decision today then that would obviously help us a lot in terms of some of the options that you might have in terms of player acquisitions between now and the draft or free agency. Having said that, I’m not in control of that; he’s in control of it.”
That’s the thing: the Predators have 15 players unsigned for next season and there’s a lot of work for Poile to do before July 1st gets here. Suter’s indecision puts Poile in a bind as he tries to figure how much money he can spend to re-sign the likes of Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad and others.
Poile also wouldn’t be able to use one of the draft picks he acquired in Friday’s trade with Tampa Bay to bring in a defenseman, because he flat out doesn’t know Suter’s intentions.
“It certainly polarizes us a little bit because trying to replace Suter in terms of quality of player, that’s not going to be easy,” Poile said. “Secondly, before I can assign certain dollars to certain players, I’ve got to be careful because I don’t know how much I’m paying Suter. It’s not a perfect situation.”
The looming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations and the uncertainty of what the salary cap will be next season does not help, either. The current CBA expires September 15th.
As Poile spends time trying to convince Suter to sign on the dotted line, he’s started negotiations with some of his other free agents – but nothing is close to being completed. Poile also mentioned Friday that he is close to making decisions on qualifying offers for his restricted free agents, too.
One of his RFA’s is Suter’s defense partner, captain Shea Weber. If Suter commits to the Predators, Poile will have to find a way to make it all work, contractually, to keep both Suter and Weber. It can be done, but it won’t be easy as they are assumedly seeking similar contracts.
“What I’m going to need to do is – if I have the ability to do this – whenever Ryan says something to the effect that he’d like to come back to the Predators, I need to bring them together and they’re going to have to work together so that we can sign them to the correct contract so that we can be within the cap and put a competitive team on the ice that can challenge for the Stanley Cup,” Poile said.
“With all due respect, if (Suter) were to go to another team he’d be playing with someone else; not that somebody else is not good, but it’s not Shea Weber. How much is that worth? To me that’s worth a lot.”
But what is it worth to Suter? Is it something that will convince him to stay and be paired with Weber for the duration of his career? Or does Suter want to build his own legacy on defense without having to crawl out from under Weber’s shadow?
By the sound of it, the latter isn’t something Suter is worried about. If he were to pick to his perfect destination, he’d opt to sign with a small-market team that has a promising future, a place where he can live a private life instead of dealing with a fishbowl environment.
That sounds a lot like what Nashville has to offer, doesn’t it?
“Ryan likes it here,” Poile said. “This is the size of city he wants to play in, this is the amount of drive he wants to make to the rink, this is the amount of notoriety he wants to have, this is the amount of ice time he’d like to have.
“It’s a little frustrating when I hear myself saying that because everything fits here with him.”