The Nashville Predators are not a team known for big spending during free agency, and certainly not for making a financial splash during the free agent frenzy. That changed on Friday.
Within hours of free agency beginning, the Predators signed a total of five players: forwards Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, and Matt Hendricks and goaltender Carter Hutton. Those moves were enough to leave general manager David Poile satisfied that he addressed all the Predators needs, spending a total of $36.2 million on contracts.
“I think we addressed all of our needs that we had at the end of our season,” Poile said, adding, “I am really happy with what we got done. We have some depth now. We have some roster flexibility and the competition should be heated when we get to training camp.”
It is just the second time in team history that Nashville signed a new player on the first day of free agency. A year ago, the team picked up Chris Mason to serve as backup to Pekka Rinne on July 1st.
“We have never been this active on the first day of free agency, signing five players. It can be a whirlwind when people go a little bit crazy. We had a clear and definite plan going into this. We wanted to identity specific areas of need,” said Poile, who mentioned that the Predators had been working on the free agent shopping list nearly every day since the end of the 2012-13 season.
It isn’t just that the Predators signed five players that is a surprise, grabbing headlines around the NHL. The dollar sign attached to the totality of the contracts isn’t cheap.
When you discount Sergei Kostitsyn’s $3 million salary, Nashville has the 15th highest payroll in the NHL with $7 million left in cap space, with at least one player (RFA Nick Spaling) still to be signed by the Predators. All indications point to first round draft pick Seth Jones bucking the path of all roads to Nashville go through Milwaukee and is likely to start the season with the Predators. The elite prospect has not signed his entry-level contract, but it should be at the maximum allowed for players entering the NHL.
While Nashville didn’t sign the flashy unrestricted free agents that were on the market, Friday’s splash into free agency and Nashville’s willingness to shed out so much money proved showed that the ownership is willing to spend.
“It shows that they want to win as much as Barry [Trotz] and I do,” Poile said of ownership.
Not quite a cap team just yet, according to CapGeek.com, the Predators have over $61.1 million tied up in salary for next season, but with Sergei Kostitysn’s salary coming off the books, the number is expected to drop to $58.1 million. Still, just four seasons ago, Nashville’s salary was just over $44 million, with a salary cap that year just shy of $57 million.
This season the cap has come down from $70 million to $64.3 million. The last time the cap was that figure was in 2011-12. The Predators spent $52.1 million on salary that season. It should be noted that the difference in spending cannot simply be attributed to Shea Weber’s increase in salary because the captain went from a cap hit of $7.5 million to $7.85 million, despite the increase in actual dollar amount being paid in bonuses to the All-Star defenseman.
During a press conference after Nashville’s signing frenzy, Poile said he believes the roster for the 2013-14 season is now set for the Predators – but it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the case, especially with claims of willingness to be a spend-to-the-cap team. There may be no better year to prove that to be the case than after missing the postseason and finishing with the fourth-worst record in the NHL.