Earlier this week, the Nashville Predators locked Mattias Ekholm to a six-year extension, meaning they have the brunt of their defensive core locked up long-term. The only core defenceman who isn’t under control for the foreseeable future is Seth Jones, who’s entry-level deal expires at the end of the season. Along with Jones, Filip Forsberg will also need a new deal this summer, but thanks to a bunch of team-friendly deals, the Preds should have no problem getting their star young players signed.
DEFENCEMEN AND GOALTENDERS
After locking up Mattias Ekholm to a six-year extension earlier this week, the Predators now have the majority of their defensive core signed for the foreseeable future. Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Ekholm are all signed for at least three more seasons after this one at a combined cap hit of just over $18 million. The only key part of their blue line that the Preds need to worry about now is Seth Jones, who’s entry-level deal comes to an end at the end of the season.
Jones is now in his third season in the NHL and he’s obviously going to be looking for a hefty pay increase from his current rookie salary of $0.950 million per season. Through his first two years and change, Jones has managed 14 goals and 42 assists in 167 games. His ice time and situational usage has remained fairly consistent over his rookie and sophomore season, averaging 19:37 and 19:53 minutes per game against mid-level opposing competition. He’s also managed a 52.3 Corsi For percentage over his career, which has been positive in relation to his teammates each year.
Seth Jones can probably look at a couple of his teammates when seeking a comparable contract this summer. Roman Josi, though he broke into the league at a later age and doesn’t have the draft pedigree of Jones, had a relatively similar career trajectory before signing a seven-year, $28 million deal at the end of his rookie contract. In his rookie and sophomore year, Josi produced 0.31 and 0.38 points per game while making a good chunk of his shift starts in the defensive zone. Jones produced at a similar clip, scoring 0.32 and 0.33 points per game in his rookie season, but also received more favourable zone starts and faced easier competition.
Obviously it isn’t a perfect comparison and Josi is paid much, much less than the average young top-pairing defenceman, but it’s a reasonable place to start. Other than Josi, John Klingberg makes $4.25 million, Jonas Brodin makes $4.166 million, and Justin Faulk makes $4.83 million, so Jones should probably be somewhere in that ballpark. Regardless of whether he signed for $4 or $5 million, or somewhere in the middle, the Preds will more than likely have a core of five good defencemen signed at a combined cap hit of roughly $23 million for the foreseeable future, which is incredible. The Preds have done a phenomenal job at managing their cap, signing players to team-friendly deals, allowing them to be competitive as a team with an internal budget. A big key in this for the Preds has been the ability to draft and develop high end talent on the blue line, and then also knowing when to let go and not hand out big, boat anchor deals.
Of their top-six defencemen, only one wasn’t drafted by the Preds. Barret Jackman was signed as a free agent this summer, but all of Weber, Josi, Jones, Ellis, and Ekholm are Nashville products. The Preds have also been diligent in allowing other top defencemen that they’ve developed to walk away as free agents. Within a span of a couple years, the Preds lost Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter to free agency, as Hamhuis signed a six-year deal with a $4.5 million cap hit with the Canucks and Suter inked a massive 13-year deal with a $7.538 million cap hit with the Wild. Now, instead of having an aging and declining Suter locked up into his 40s, the Preds have been able to keep multiple young defencemen during the prime years of their career. The only contract on the blue line the Preds can really complain about was the one given to Shea Weber, as it wasn’t even one they handed out themselves, as he was inked to a massive 14-year offer sheet by the Flyers that they chose to match.
While Seth Jones is obviously a huge priority for the Preds this summer, their biggest concern could be Filip Forsberg, who, like Jones, is coming to the end of his entry-level deal at the end of the season. Aside from Forsberg, the Preds are also going to need to figure out new RFA deals for Cody Hodgson, Gabriel Bourque, Miikka Salomaki, and Calle Jarnkrok, while Paul Gaustad is set to his unrestricted free agency. Like I said, though, getting Forsberg locked up to a long-term deal will obviously be the most important task of all.
Forsberg broke out last year in the first full season of his career, leading the Preds with 26 goals and 63 points and finishing fourth in Calder Trophy voting. He hasn’t missed a beat this year, managing six points through his first eight games, which puts him on pace for roughly the same points per game production that he had last year. Another reason to be impressed with Forsberg are his peripheral stats. Last year, he had the second best relative Corsi For percentage of any player on the team, behind only Mike Ribeiro, who was his most common linemate last year.
Obviously he only has one full season in the league under his belt, but if Forsberg continues at this pace, producing at a high offensive level and putting up good peripheral stats, he should be in line for a hefty pay increase from his rookie salary. At this point, I would guess that Forsberg would be given some kind of bridge contract similar to the one signed by Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida this summer. He’ll be going into the 2015-16 season at the age of 22, so he still has a ways to go before any extension would start eating up his unrestricted free agency years.
If they choose to sign Forsberg to a two-year bridge deal this summer, then his contract would again be up for negotiation on July 1, 2018. By then, the Preds only have money committed to two other forwards. James Neal’s contract comes to an end in 2018, and the contracts of Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro would have already expired the summer before. Of course, if the Preds decide to sign Forsberg to a long-term deal, they certainly have the cap room for it. Right now, they have just over $11 million in cap room, and they only currently have roughly $51 million invested in six forwards, five defencemen, and one goalie heading into next season.
Impending free agents:
Paul Gaustad, Victor Bartley, Steve Moses, Carter Hutton (UFA).
Filip Forsberg, Cody Hodgson, Gabriel Bourque, Miikka Salomaki, Calle Jarnkrok, Seth Jones, Anthony Bitetto, Carter Hutton (RFA).
Money invested into 2015-16:
Forwards: $24.163 million in seven players.
Defencemen: $20.107 million in five players.
Goaltenders: $7 million in one goalie.
Buyouts: $0.950 million in two buyouts.
Depending on where the cap ceiling ends up, the Preds will likely have somewhere around $20–$25 million in cap room to flesh out their roster and re-sign to key RFAs this offseason. Seven forwards, five defencemen, and one goalie from their current active roster are already signed into next year, so some of those holes can be filled by players already in their system like Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala, or Marek Mazanec, or they can be filled via the free agency market. Regardless, the Preds have plenty of room to both keep around their core players, namely Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones, and also make some slight improvements to their roster.