Monday, the Nashville Predators extended qualifying offers to seven of their restricted free agents, signifying a desire from the organization to retain those players moving forward.
Forwards Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Calle Jarnkrok, Taylor Beck and Gabriel Bourque, defensemen Anthony Bitetto and Taylor Aronson and goaltender Magnus Hellberg all received an offer from the Preds ahead of the June 29, 4 p.m. CT deadline to extend an offer.
“We know we have the right pieces in place,” Predators Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton said. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle [with the salary cap]. We have to figure out who fits where and what the price is. Sometimes, that comes at the expense of making hard decisions, but we knew [the qualified RFAs] were all going to be a piece here, and we wanted to make sure we retained their rights.”
The offers give the Predators the ability to continue talks with the players with the hope of negotiating and coming to terms on new contracts before the season begins.
Smith, who recorded the highest point total of any of the team’s RFAs in 2014-15, potted 23 goals and 44 points last season. His goal total tied for second on the Preds and his 252 shots on goal led the club. Smith also tied for second on the team in playoff points with five (2g-3a). The 25-year-old Madison, Wis., native has hit the 20-goal mark for two consecutive seasons.
Wilson reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career last season, recording 20 goals and 42 points, both career highs. The winger then set a franchise record for most goals in a single playoff series with five when he led the team in goals against the Blackhawks in the first round.
“They’ve become core players for us here,” Fenton said of Smith and Wilson. “With both of them scoring over 20 goals [in 2014-15] and starting to play in our top-six like we had projected them to, [it was important to qualify them]. They’re really big pieces for us, and as we go forward in the summer, we’re hoping to sign them to long-term deals.”
Jarnkrok, Beck and Bourque also skated at the NHL level for the entire campaign in 2014-15, with Beck (16) and Jarnkrok (15) both setting career highs in points.
Bitetto appeared in his first seven career NHL games last season, while Aronson skated in 71 games for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. Hellberg minded the net in 37 games for the Admirals in 2014-15.