At the end of season press conference, Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz lamented that the team needed more sandpaper. Nashville was too easy to play against. In the first day of free agency, the Predators addressed those needs by signing Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom to four-year deals.
“We got bigger. We got faster. I think we are going to have our swagger,” Trotz said of today’s signings which include Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen. “It is going to be a very difficult place to come into Bridgestone Arena. With the players we added and our fan base and the energy in this building, it is going to be fun.”
On Friday, general manager David Poile said one of the main goals of the free-agency period for Nashville was to regain the team’s identity by signing some character players that are tough to play against. The Predators determined that Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk were not difficult enough on opponents and let them both walk.
Hendricks talked about being that gritty-type player the Predators were targeting today.
“I’m going to be an energy guy. I’m going to bring energy to the rink whether it is games or practices. I think being that sandpaper, being that gritty player that sticks up for his teammates, finishes his checks, tries to make it miserable on his opponents. The more players you have like that in your lineup, the easier it gets for everyone else. You aren’t worrying so much about other teams being physical, because that’s what we want to try to bring now, we want to be the physical team,” Hendricks said.
The Blaine, Minnesota native said that it is Nashville’s style of play that attracted him to the team.
“I love the system that they play. I love the defensive style that they play,” the 32-year old said, adding “they have a great goaltender in Pekka [Rinne]. They have a great defensive corps. They have some real good young forwards as well. They are a team that has been successful. They get to the playoffs every year. They just haven’t been able to get over that hump. I find myself to be able to thrive in that type of system, that type of hockey.”
Hendricks was drafted by Nashville 131st overall in the fifth round. The former Washington Capitals forward was signed to a four-year, $7.4 million contract. He will get paid $1.85 million per season.
Poile doesn’t regret waiting 13 years after drafting him to finally give Hendricks his shot in a Predator uniform.
“Different players take time to get to the NHL, they take different routes. At the time, we didn’t see Matt being able to do it. He sort of took the long route, sort of like an Andrew Burnette or a Joel Ward,” Poile said.
It wasn’t until the 2009-10 season that the center made the jump to the NHL, after five seasons in the AHL, playing 56 games for the Colorado Avalanche. Hendricks picked up nine goals and seven assists for 16 points that year.
“I never really got an opportunity to work with the organization. I went on to a four-year career at St. Cloud State. Things didn’t work out between Nashville and myself after that career. I moved on and they moved on. I couldn’t be happier to come back to play for the Preds and live in a great city like Nashville,” Hendricks said.
Last season in 48 games, Hendricks picked up eight points, including five goals and three assists in 48 games this season for the Capitals. He won 56.8 percent of his faceoffs and added 93 hits.
While he isn’t going to put up a lot of offensive numbers, Hendricks knows his way around the shootout, leading the way for the Capitals in the 2011-12 season with an 83.3 percent success rate, or five goals on six attempts. During the lockout-shortened season, Hendricks only had one goal on three attempts, but in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons Hendricks came in at a 50 percent shootout rate. The Predators went 2-for-6 in the shootout this season.
Nystrom also emphasized toughness when asked what he brought to the team.
“Grit and character and work ethic are really important to have a successful team,” the 30-year old said. “I think they targeted some really good guys. I played with Matt Cullen and he works so hard. I know Hendricks from Washington is a really gritty player. Stalberg just won the Cup and knows what it takes. Adding guys like that is only going to make the team better.
“I think I fit the mold really well there. They are a really honest, hard working team. Anyone I know who has played for Barry Trotz has had the highest regard for him as a coach. I knew that I could fit in here and have a good role on the team and contribute and that my style of play would fit in here. That made my decision easy.”
Nystrom’s four-year deal is worth $10 million. He is set to make $2 million in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 and $3 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17. The 30-year old left wing played the last two years for the Dallas Stars, picking up 11 points, including seven goals and four assists, as well as 122 hits in 48 games this season, but is happy to be moving on.
“I’m so excited to be signing in Nashville. Obviously, playing against them for a long time, I know the type of system they play and the type of team that they have. I think I fit in well with that system. I’m so excited to get the season going. I can’t wait,” the left-wing said.
With today’s signing of Hendricks and Nystrom, the Predators got tougher to play against; there is no question about that. Trotz and Poile think the Predators got their identity back, bringing the team closer to playing like a playoff team.
Nystrom echoed that belief.
“I want to help get them back to where the team was the previous years. I think that’s why they added the players they did. I think we can help get them back to that point.”