Through the summer, we are going to take a more in-depth look at the roster moves made by the Colorado Avalanche and what to expect going into the new season. At the same time, we’ve decided to do the same for each of the teams that the Avalanche will be competing with in the Central Division. Tom has covered the St. Louis Blues, Cat has taken care of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jackie looked at the Dallas Stars, and yours truly has seen to the Winnipeg Jets. Now, it is time for the Central Division Champion Nashville Predators.
Looking at Nashville’s Cap Friendly page, it’s frankly hard to find any flaws. The entire core is locked up to good money and term. The only free agents the team will have to worry about it Pekka Rinne next year and Roman Josi as well as Craig Smith the year after. However, the team has more than $7 million in cap space TODAY, and that will only improve with inflation (and the expiration of Austin Watson’s contract and Viktor Stalberg’s buyout).
Rinne is 35-years-young and it doesn’t look like his best days are ahead of him. Fortunately, Juuse Saros is 23 and only getting better as the everyday backup. Smith and Josi are both 28 today, and will be 30 when their contracts expire. It is widely agreed upon that an NHL player starts to see their decline in their late 20’s and definitely arrives by 30- or 31-years-old, unless you are Jaromir Jagr, Zdeno Chara, or Patrick Marleau of course. Perhaps the Preds decide to keep their cash and instead call up one of their prospects. Eeli Tolvanen and Dante Fabbro come to mind. Therefore what I’m saying, if i’m saying anything, is that the Preds have space to make some big additions. More on that later.
Honestly, if I were the Avs for the next year or so, I’d be hoping to get in the first wild card position heading into the playoffs and take my chances with the flickering Pacific Division. Honestly, there isn’t a team in that division that isn’t poorly run (*cough* Canada *cough*), old and getting older (*cough* California *cough*), or the Vegas Golden Knights.
Regardless, let’s look at the moves the Nashville Predators made during the offseason and whether Avs fans should be intrigued or frightened at the sight of playing the yellow cats four times in 2018-19.
The Predators didn’t make any big acquisitions over the summer, but they did lock up one of their most important players to healthy term and below market-value salary. $6.25 million for the next eight (8) years is a big contract for the Preds to dish out to a 27-year-old that will turn 28 by the time the contract kicks in, but it’s totally worth it when you consider how good Ellis is when it comes to every aspect of hockey, you pay the man his money. Especially when he probably took less than what others with his abilities got. I highly recommend reading the article from On The Forecheck that I’ll link below, it goes into great depth on who Ellis is a player, who he most compares to, and they frankly nailed the contract prediction portion.
Nashville are lucky and/or smart for getting this deal done with Ellis as soon as they did. A season of speculation as to whether Ellis will get traded for future assets, especially if the team doesn’t start off strongly, is something no team (players, management, or fans) wants to deal with day in day out. Also, the closer a player gets to free agency, the more they see the big pay day they could get on July 1st, and as a result, the higher their pricetag goes.
Like the player, Saros’ new contract is small but mighty. $1.5 million over the next three years for the 23-year-old could be one of those massive under-pay contracts we see players in their early 20’s, especially goalies, signing.
A .925 save percentage goalie in 26 regular season games, and a .952 sv% (40 saves on 42 shots) in four playoff appearances, the Predators have shown their faith in the “tiny” 5’11” netminder, playing him over Rinne in spots where the established veteren would normally have a larger leash. It’s not like Rinne has lost the job — okay maybe he has — but Saros has definitely earned the praise that’s been given to him.
Rob Vollman has a stat on Hockey-Reference.com that looks at a goalie’s quality start percentage. Basically, it counts starts where the goalie has saved an above-average number of shots per total starts made. The best goalies in the league give their team a better than average chance to win about 60% of the time. Saros gave the Preds a 60.9% chance to win in the 23 starts he made last season. By comparison, Rinne hit a career high 67.8% quality start ratio, which is excellent. But dropped to 53.8% in his 13 playoff starts, not as excellent.
There will be detractors to Saros, particularly because his sample size (43 games started) and total size (an inch smaller than six feet) are not high enough for people to be comfortable handing the net of a championship-calibre team to. Goalies are hard to find, but if the Predators have found one, it could be a real pain in the Saros for the Avalanche.
I really liked the acquisition of Hartman. I know it feels like a small part of the team that probably cost too much; a first, fourth, and a promising (but older) prospect coming from Sweden, but adding Hartman to the forward addresses an immediate need the team has and does it with a high-end player. What need? A fourth-line winger who can move up higher in the lineup in a heartbeat, kill penalties, and is a speedy, tenacious little bugger whose ilk find ways to come alive in the playoffs.
The Predators re-signed the 23-year-old to $875,000 for one season and will be under team control for the next four seasons. For a team that has done a great job of keeping role players paid very little, this is just keeping with that philosphy.
Look at the previous Cup winners, Washington and Pittsburgh. Both used fast, skilled, and hard-working players in their bottom-six. Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, Chandler Stephenson all showed flashes of higher-end upside earlier in their careers but adapted a role-players mentality into their game and it worked wonders for the Caps. Same with Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and Tom Kuhnhackl for the Penguins. All of those players produced offensively in spots that were traditionally not intended to score and it proved to be one of the small differences that helped those teams win.
I’m kidding, I’m kidding!
They haven’t added the best defenseman in the league to already the best defensive core in the very same league...
Honestly! It’s a proposal that makes sense for all parties involved.
Think about it. The Predators currently own all their draft picks for the next three seasons (okay, they swapped a third with Florida and have an extra fourth from us), Dante Fabbro is a high-calibre defensive prospect that, not only the Ottawa Senators covet, but the Predators would no longer need considering they have a core of five defensemen (four minus Josi) locked up until 2021.
The price for Karlsson has obviously dropped, and I don’t think many believe more than couple early picks and a prospect like Fabbro is needed to save even a player of Karlsson’s stature out of the current forest fire that is Kanata. If the Predators truly believe Saros can be the starter full-time in the near future, having him at $1.5 million for the next three seasons is a great economization of the position. It wouldn’t take more than saving the $7 million from Rinne’s contract and replacing him with a sub-million cap hit backup goalie.
From the Erik Karlsson perspective, Nashville has the money to pay the pending free agent pretty much whatever he wants, the state tax is very friendly, and dressing up in funky costumes is an “in” thing in Tennesse!
This fit aligns with some of the scuttlebutt that has come out of the NHL’s best insiders. Nashville is a Western Conference team, a team that is no-doubt a Stanley Cup contender, and has an ownership/management group that isn’t batsh*t crazy.
There is a sense today that Erik Karlsson trade talks have picked up in the last few days. Most likely destinations appear to be Western Conference. There is also a belief VAN has stepped in to see if it is a match.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 22, 2018
Although, I’m not sure Pierre Dorion would want to trade with Nashville very much anymore.