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Search for help at forward begins

Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said Tuesday that the team has interest in forward Danny Briere, who was recently bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers. He won’t be the only forward the Predators will have interest in as free agency is set to begin Friday with a two-day interview period starting Wednesday.

Aside from finding a backup goaltender, the rest of the roster seems to be set for the 2013-14 season. But the Predators have some work to do at forward if they wish to return to their usual playoff-contending status. They finished tied for last in the NHL in goals per game (2.27) last season.

The Predators have stated multiple times that they have a desire to replace what they lost offensively when Martin Erat was dealt to Washington. They may have to replace Sergei Kostitsyn, too, who is pursuing an opportunity in the KHL. Not to mention, they did not draft a forward with the No. 4 overall pick that could step in the lineup right away.

The group of free-agent forwards has more quantity than quality, and Briere is one of the top forwards available.

“We’re going to be talking to him. He’s got lots of teams that are chasing him, but yes, that is a guy I’d like to talk to,” Poile said.

Briere, who will turn 36 in October, is said to be on the downside of his career. He’s coming off perhaps the worst season of his career, tallying 16 points in 34 games last season. He may benefit from a change of scenery after falling out of favor in Philadelphia, but durability has also been an issue for Briere over the years.

Another top free agent available, more so than Briere, is Vinny Lecavalier, who is 33 and could immediately slide in as Nashville’s top-line center. Although they have interest in him, Poile said Tuesday that Lecavalier’s interests may not correlate with the Predators.

“Most of the teams he met with he strongly said, at least to us, that he was going to sign with a team on the east coast,” Poile said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a fit.”

There is a host of other free-agent forwards that will be available to sign come Friday. That group includes David Clarkson, Pascal Dupuis, Valtteri Filppula, Nathan Horton, Michael Ryder and Stephen Weiss, among others. None would put the Predators over the top, per se, but all would undoubtedly be helpful.

That being said, teams may overpay for those players in the free agent frenzy. Although the Predators have the resources to get what they need, the price tag will be an important factor for Poile. The same can be said if the Predators pursue trade options to get a forward.

“It’s a combination – is it the right guy, how much do you want to spend, how many years – different situations are going to go into our final decision of signing somebody even if they want to play here,” Poile said. “It’s not a guess at what the market is; it’s a knowledge of what we’re willing to pay for that position or that player. We put values to every player. The market may be different to what our values are, but that’s what we’re going to go by.”

There isn’t an exact preference for what kind of forward the Predators want. They could add a winger and move to Colin Wilson. They could add a center and keep Wilson at left wing for the time being. They could opt for a power forward, as the team seeks more size and sandpaper. The possibilities are endless because the Predators are flexible, but it’s clear they are desperate to find a forward (or forwards) that can make an impact in the top-six.

If the Predators are active come Friday, it will certainly be different territory for them. They did sign Chris Mason on July 1 last summer and Matthew Lombardi on July 2 in 2010, but Poile normally lets the dust settle from the frenzy before making his moves.

The 48-hour interview period adds a new wrinkle to free agency. Teams are able to call or meet with free agents before they can actually sign them at 11 a.m. central time on Friday, whereas before it was open season on every free agent available.

“We’re going to be on the phone calling several people,” Poile said.

Most, one would assume, will be forwards.

 
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