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Thoughts on flurry of signings

In the days/hours leading up to last night’s CBA expiration, the Predators signed four players to new contracts:

Kevin Klein – 5 years, $14.5 million
Jonathon Blum – 1 year, $650,000
Craig Smith – 2 years, $4 million
Gabriel Bourque – 2 years, $1.55 million

Here are some thoughts on those signings…

– Of the four listed, Kevin Klein’s contract extension is the biggest. Entering his contract year, Klein decided to stay put with the Predators for another five years. At first glance some may say the Predators gave the 27-year-old defenseman too much money and term. Not so fast.

Klein’s current cap hit is $1.35 million, one of the NHL’s bigger bargains for non-entry level contract players. His new cap hit, starting in 2013-14, will be $2.9 million – which, compared to other contracts that are being given to defensemen around the league, it looks like a good deal. Not too many 20-minute defensemen that can do a little bit of everything, like Klein, can be had for less than $3 million a year.

In each of the last three seasons, Klein has hovered around the 20-minute mark on a nightly basis. He’s a guy the coaching staff turns to on the penalty kill, and his overall role will likely increase this year (as will everyone’s) with the departure of Ryan Suter. Production wise, with 21 points in 66 games, Klein is coming off his best season to date.

Klein turned his game up a notch or three in the postseason’s first round when Hal Gill could not suit up against Detroit. It was Klein who made some key plays throughout that series and was the series’ unsung hero, if you will.

He takes a lot of heat from fans and his miscues can sometimes be glaring – but overall, Klein will be a valued member of the Predators’ blue-line if he performs close to the level he did in the playoffs.

– Here is what defenseman Jonathon Blum had to say Friday about his one-year, two-way contract.

“Finally getting it done is nice. It’s been a couple months of back-and-forth talks and that grinds on a person.”

When asked why it was just a one-year deal, he said, “Last year I didn’t have my best year, so I’m sure if I had a good year last year we’d be talking about a multi-year deal with more money. But I have to prove myself again and taking a one-year deal is good for me. If I have a season I know I can have there is room for a lot more money. It’s a good deal for the Preds, a good deal for me, and I’m happy it’s over with.”

Blum signing for one year is an interesting approach for both parties. For Blum, it could be an opportunity for him to prove himself in 2012-13 and earn a bigger contract next summer as a result. For the Predators, this could mean they are hesitant to give Blum a deal that would be of any risk to them (i.e. two or three years). It’s a low risk, medium reward deal for both sides.

You’d hate to say it’s a “make or break” season for Blum, but the Predators need to see more from him – whether that is in Nashville or Milwaukee – if the California native wants to be a part of the future defense corps.

– Don’t let Craig Smith’s rookie second half fool you: he’s going to be a very good NHL player for years to come. If he learns from hitting that proverbial rookie wall, he’ll be just fine. This is the same guy who was carrying the Predators’ offense through the season’s first quarter and whose speed has been compared to Teemu Selanne.

Consider: the Predators will pay Smith a total of $4.74 million over the next three years. And in that same time span, the Predators will pay Smith and Colin Wilson a combined $10.74 million. Granted, unless youngsters are superstars immediately, the first contract post-entry level is going to be relatively inexpensive. But it would be no surprise if both players emerged as top-line forwards for Barry Trotz in the next three years.

Hypothetically speaking, if Smith and Wilson were to sign contracts next summer, those dollar figures could look very different.

– Gabriel Bourque shined in his rookie campaign following a mid-season call-up. Like Klein, he was a key contributor to the first-round series win over Detroit. Bourque’s 19 points in 43 games don’t jump out at you, but he’s effective in all areas of the ice. Plus, his point total would extrapolate to 36 points in 82 games – not too bad for a third-liner on a team that has to manufacture goals.

It’s not a fair comparison because they are at different stages of their career, but Bourque’s game (minus the chatter) is similar to Brad Marchand and, to a lesser extent, Alex Burrows. Both of them received identical four-year, $18 million contract extensions this month.

The Predators signing Bourque to a deal with a six-figure cap hit ($775,000) will look like one solid bargain when he enters his RFA contract season two years from now.

– Looking ahead to 2013-14, the Predators now have 13 players signed for a combined cap hit of $45.4 million. The following players remain unsigned: Matt Halischuk, Patric Hornqvist, Roman Josi, Jack Maclellan and Nick Spaling (RFA); Scott Hannan, Chris Mason, Brian McGrattan and Brandon Yip (UFA).

 
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