In the midst of draft preparations, Predators General Manager David Poile and his hockey operations team are busy putting together a plan for the upcoming free agency period beginning July 1. Poile is scheduled to meet with a handful of Predators restricted free agents who must be tendered qualifying offers before the deadline on Monday, June 30.
“We’ve started negotiations with just about everybody,” Poile said. “To me it would be nice to have it done but it isn’t an urgent situation such as if you’re dealing with an unrestricted free agent. I think in due course we’ll get these players taken care of.”
The players that Poile is referring to are defensemen Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and left winger Nick Spaling. Predators right winger Patrick Eaves is the lone unrestricted free agent heading into July 1. Poile confirmed last week he would not be making Eaves a contract offer.
Unrestricted free agents can begin meeting and interviewing with potential new teams Wednesday before being able to sign contracts Tuesday, July 1. With Eaves off the books, the Predators enter free agency well below the projected salary cap. With the cap estimated to rise to around $71 million, Poile feels like he has much more flexibility with free agents.
“It was a paralyzing situation with the cap going down a year ago,” Poile said. “Nobody had any flexibility. This year with the cap going up you could see some action.”
Despite the ability to spend more money this offseason, the free agency pool is arguably the scarcest it has been in years. With most of the top unrestricted free agents expected to re-sign with their current teams, it may turn into an overpriced bidding war for those few players left.
After signing five players – Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Carter Hutton, Viktor Stalberg and Matt Hendricks – on the opening day of free agency a year ago, Poile is looking to sign just one or two high-caliber forwards this free agency period.
“Last year I think we had a lot of holes in our hockey club,” Poile said. “I wasn’t happy with our team the previous year and we needed to make a lot of changes. This year we’re looking for more quality than quantity.”
With a wealth of young, talented players, Poile has made it clear he is confident in his current roster going forward. With one of the League’s best young defensive corps and an All-Star caliber goalie healthy and back from injury, Poile believes his team is close to being able to make a playoff push.
“I’ve got patience,” Poile said. “I think we have got a lot of players that can play better than they did last year at the forward position and I think we have a lot of prospects coming along.”
Poile and the Predators will enter free agency with list of players they intend to entertain with offers. Currently, the Predators have 11 forwards under NHL contracts heading into next season.
Poile reaffirmed he would bump one of those players out if he’s able to acquire the top forward he’s seeking. With that being said Poile also made it clear he would not overpay or force a fit here in Nashville.
“We go into free agency with a plan,” Poile said. “We’ve identified a handful of players we would like to approach on July 1. If it’s a fit for us that’ll be great, but I’m not going to be over promising that something is going to happen.”
Below are links to a handful of evaluations of the top free agents in this year’s class: