While the unveiling of the 2016 NHL® All-Star logo took center stage on Saturday for the Nashville Predators, the club’s general manager also had plenty to discuss.
GM David Poile addressed the state of the Preds at the Music City Sports Festival held in the Music City Center in downtown Nashville, looking back on the 2014-15 season before previewing what’s to come on the ice for the Predators in 2015-16.
The overriding theme? Poile doesn’t expect there to be nearly as much change throughout the organization as has occurred over the past couple of summers.
“Our team is just about there,” Poile said in regard to the Preds competing for the Stanley Cup. “I’ll take our goaltending with Pekka [Rinne] against anybody, I’ll take our defense against anybody; our forwards have been under the microscope and are really getting better…We’ve got to be a bit better, but I like what we have right now, and I would like to see a majority of this team come back next year and see how we compete against all the top teams in the League.”
With Poile preferring to retain most of the players who sported Preds Gold last season, the second-winningest NHL GM of all-time stated that his attention is mostly focused on in-house transactions rather than what may be available in free agency come July 1.
“[What happens in free agency is] we usually sign [players] to a number of years and probably overpay a little to do that,” Poile said. “We’ve drafted really well in the last couple of years, the cupboard is pretty full down in [American Hockey League affiliate] Milwaukee right now, so I’d really like to promote from within. You never say never and there are a couple of good free agents, but not too many, so we’ll see what takes place… a lot of those holes [on our roster] got filled this past summer, and hopefully we won’t be doing too much in the free agent market.”
One area that may need tending to, however, is on the blue line. Poile alluded to the fact that defenseman Anton Volchenkov, signed last summer to a one-year deal, may not be back with the club. If that’s the case, the only GM in Preds’ franchise history could look to free agency to fill that void. Or perhaps, he’s got just what he needs already in the organization.
“If there’s a ‘like’ defenseman out there with maybe a little of a physical edge, maybe a veteran type of player, we could go in that direction, but I’m comfortable with [defenseman] Victor Bartley having a chance to play more regularly,” Poile said. “We have a young player by the name of Anthony Bitetto who played some games here last year, and I really favor right now to promote from within. It’s the right thing to do in the organization.”
Just as he did during his end-of-season press conference, Poile stated that re-signing veteran centers Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher remains a top priority. Poile is also in contract negotiations with restricted free agents Colin Wilson and Craig Smith, both of whom hit the 20-goal mark for the Preds last season.
“I’ve found under this cap era, if you get comfortable with your own players, you’re signing your own players…I think that trend will continue,” Poile said. “We’re in negotiations with Colin Wilson and Craig Smith, two players that are 24 years of age and we would like to sign them and probably sign them to some term if we can agree on that.
“If we can execute on re-signing our free agents and getting our players back, I think it’ll be very limited, our participation in free agency…we signed Steve Moses, we’ve got younger players like Kevin Fiala and Jimmy Vesey, so I’d really like to give the bulk of this group another chance next year to see if we can continue where we left off and be a little bit better.”
Other items of note from Poile’s address:
On the potential to re-sign trade-deadline acquisitions Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli:
“We’re probably not going to do anything with them. It was a good try to give us some depth to make the playoffs and to compete in the playoffs, and I was really disappointed with how it worked out with Cody. I think he’s a really good player, a great person, a big body; in a lot of ways, I’d like to have him here for a long time. But he’s a right handed shot and [Shea] Weber is a right-handed shot and [Seth] Jones is a right-handed shot and [Ryan] Ellis is a right-handed shot and none of them can or want to play on the left side. So it’s not a fit for us. Cody is going to go somewhere else and play real well. Mike Santorelli was close, but no cigar. He had a ton of chances for us and just seemed to be so close to contributing and scoring some goals and it just wasn’t enough, so we’re going to go in a different direction.”
On 2012 draft selection, forward Jimmy Vesey joining the team after finishing his senior season at Harvard in 2015-16:
“…we would’ve liked to have had him last year at playoff time, but that may be the best trade we make next year at the trading deadline if we are able to sign Jimmy Vesey.”
On the potential to sign 2013 draft selection, goaltender Juuse Saros, and what that could mean for restricted free agent goaltender Magnus Hellberg:
“With Saros, he just finished up at the World Championships and we’ve approached his agency group and yes, we would like to sign him. If we do sign him, then I think we have a decision to make on Hellberg.”
On the NHL switching the overtime format for the 2015-16 season:
“Coming out of the GM’s meetings, one of the things we put to the Competition Committee was a change to the overtime format. The thought process is that we’d probably like to see more games finish in overtime than in the shootout. Our two suggestions on that is to make it 3-on-3 for five minutes instead of 4-on-4; the second option is to do what is currently being done in the AHL, and that’s 4-on-4 for four minutes and then three more minutes of 3-on-3. The whole idea is we feel if there are less players on the ice, more open ice, more chances and thus fewer games settled in the shootout. So it’s put to the Competition Committee and we’ve got to see what the players think and we’ll get a decision for next season.”