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The Key to the Nashville Predators Off-season Signings, Part 1


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Coming into the 2011 off-season for the Predators, Nashville has a lot of work to do to figure out which pieces of the puzzle will remain in both the current roster and current NON-roster players

There are currently TWENTY-THREE players in the organization that have contracts expiring into some type of Free Agent status, however let me break it down a bit:

9 of those are current roster players (meaning they are an active member of the Nashville Predators NHL team), of those 9:

4 are Unrestricted Free Agents (meaning their contracts expire and they go swimming in the free agent pool with all the rest of the talent): Marcel Goc, Shane O’Brien, Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward

5 are Restricted Free Agents (meaning their contracts do expire, yes, however if someone comes along with a better offer than the Predators send their way, the team that signs the player MUST compensate Nashville with draft picks): Matt Halischuk, Sergei Kostitsyn, Cal O’Reilly, Nick Spaling, Shea Weber

The other 14 players are current non-roster players (meaning they were drafted by the Nashville Predators however are playing on a team OTHER than the Predators currently or are doing something else for the organization [i.e. Wade Belak]):

8 are Unrestricted Free Agents: Steve Begin, Wade Belak, Mark Dekanich, Aaron Johnson, Grant Lewis, Jamie Lundmark, Brett Palin, Kelsey Wilson

6 are Restricted Free Agents: Dan Gendur, Linus Klasen, Teemu Laakso, Chris Mueller, Mark Santorelli, Andreas Thuresson

Now, CURRENTLY, Nashville looks like they will have about 18.5 million dollars in cap space available with all of these contracts potentially coming off the books. However, this doesn’t mean they’ll be able to spend 18.5 million dollars signing players.

The Predators always have a self-imposed cap and it usually hovers round the 8-10 million dollars in cap space mark. SO that being said, the Predators will most likely have around 10 million dollars to spend on the active players to re-sign.

In this two-part series, we’re going to look today at the NON-roster players in the organization first to see which ones are likely to be re-signed and which are not. We’ll do this in alphabetical order:

Steve Begin

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Played 38 total regular season games for both Nashville/Milwaukee this year (36 for Milwaukee/2 for Nashville) and recorded 6 total points and a -3 rating. However, he pulled a Joel Ward and had a pretty good playoff run with the Admirals playing 13 games and recording 7 points (3g/4a) in those games.

Yet, he was brought in this past off-season as a utility player and a “just-in-case” for the Predators themselves, and I think that his one year may be done

Outlook: GONE

Wade Belak

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Wade has always been a “role” player with the Predators and used only when Nashville needed a little “muscle” on the bench. Although the “muscle” was only used 15 times this year, it was safe to say Wade’s career was nearly over this year.

He was waived by the team later in the year, passed through waivers, and was nearly sent down to Milwaukee before he called it quits and was given a position in the front office doing broadcasting work with Tom Callahan.

Outlook: GONE (as a player)

Mark Dekanich

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Mr. “Dexshow” has had, what can only be called, a GREAT season in Milwaukee this year. He played in ONE game this year with Nashville, with not so favorable results, however his season in Milwaukee was a different story.

Posting a record of 23-12-5 with a 2.02 GAA and a .931 Sv%, Dekanich was third in the AHL in top goaltenders (http://theahl.com/stats/statdisplay.php?type=top_goalies&subType=0&season_id=34&league_id=4&lastActive=&confId=0) through the regular season and bested his PREVIOUS Milwaukee Admirals club records of 2.09 GAA and .923 Sv% that he had set.

Although a injury during the last month of the regualr season ended his stellar run, Dekanich no doubt was one of the Admirals #1 stars this past year. However, the big question is: With Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback holding down the top 2 spots in Nashville…what becomes of Dekanich in Milwaukee? He has the talent to be in the big leagues, but will a spot ever open up for him with the Predators?

Outlook: RE-SIGNED (increased pay, short term deal)

Dan Gendur

Status: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: A lot of people probably haven’t heard of Gendur, especially if you know nothing of the CHL (Central Hockey League), however Gendur was nearly a point-per-game player player for the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (37 gp – 13G/21A), yet that same skill couldn’t be translated into an AHL performance as he was called up for 10 games to the Admirals and could only come out with 1 assist in his time with the team.

Gendur is a little bit of a smaller/bulkier player coming in at 5’11 and 190 pounds. Although he may not crack the AHL anytime soon, he STILL is pretty much a point-per-game player in the CHL. Yet, a 7th-round draft pick originally, I’m not sure if he’ll ever amount to much

Outlook: GONE

Aaron Johnson

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Signed in the off-season as more of a depth move, Johnson provided veteran stability to a Milwaukee blue-line that needed it very much so. As he was originally drafted in 2001, Johnson came into the Predators organization and played 72 games for the Admirals this year, recording 35 points (9g/26a) and playing all 13 playoff games as well (3 points – 1g/2a).

A very steady blue-liner but in average weight/size, Johnson fills a much needed role for the Predators in Milwaukee to help the younger defensemen learn AND to provide a call-up if necessary to Nashville.

Outlook: RE-SIGNED (same pay, short term deal)

Linus Klasen

Status: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Although Klasen had a pretty good season with the Admirals (nearly a point-per game player with 45pts in 47 games) and did…well, NOTHING with the Predators (4gp, 0 points, -3), but he left town a few days ago and formally signed a contract with HockeyAllsvenskan (the AHL of the Swedish Hockey League, below Elitserien) team: The Malmö Redhawks.

What is disconcerting about this is that this is ALMOST identical to the Radulov situation, except Klasen’s contract is expiring (not 1 year left), will be playing in a league that isn’t the best in the country, will be bested by players like Jan Hlaváč [former Predator and league leader in goals in the Elitserien], and will only be making around $0.6mil in US dollars a year (but translates to 4 MILLION SWEDISH KRONA). Yet, when all is said and done, he is now the highest paid Swedish Hockey League player.

Outlook: GONE

Teemu Laakso

Status: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: A very steady player for the Predators organization and a mainstay on the Milwaukee Admirals, Laakso is one of the few players in the AHL that may just be on the opening day roster for the NHL parent club. Laakso has all the makings of a NHL defenseman: steady point producer, positive +/- rating, sturdy size, young guy.

With the possibility of O’Brien leaving and maybe Bouillon out a little longer than necessary, that will leave 2 POSSIBLE open roster spots on the Predators roster with Laakso definitely fighting for one of them alongside some of his fellow teammates.

Outlook: RE-SIGNED (increased pay, long term deal)

Grant Lewis

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Coming over to the Predators in a trade for Ian McKenzie this past off-season, Lewis has had a pretty steady AHL career since being drafted in 2004. He helped lead the Chicago Wolves to the Calder Cup in 2008 and stayed around 20-ish points a season in every year he’s played hockey (minus the 2009-2010 season, which he had 6 points in 36 games with two different teams). He had a very steady season in Milwaukee this year, 23 points in 47 games and 4 points in 11 playoff games.

Another good defenseman in the Predators organization that will probably be kept to serve as depth for what could be a thinned out Admirals blue-line, in terms of talent that could be lost on opening day next season

Outlook: RE-SIGNED (same pay, mid-range deal)

Jamie Lundmark

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: What can only be described as a draft BUST, Lundmark has been a disappointment for most teams that have taken a chance with him. Drafted 9th overall in 1999, Lundmark has NEVER broken the 20-point mark in ANY season and was a seemingly AHL-lifer. Yet, after being injured in the Predators training camp this year and then being relegated to the Admirals, he was having a sub-par year and then he essentially packed it in and left for Europe. He was best described by Admirals coach Lane Lambert:

“And Jamie Lundmark, who was supposed to provide us with offense this year, and didn’t really….decided to pack it in.  And that’s okay.  We certainly would rather see him do that than give us half an effort or decide that he wanted to do that later on in crunch time.”

Outlook: GONE

Chris Mueller

Status: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Mueller had a great season with Milwaukee, did great in his time with Nashville, and had a great playoff run with the Admirals, can you ask for anything more (besides looking a bit like Don Flamenco from “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!!”)?

Chipping in 61 points TOTAL this year (regular and post season) for the Admirals and 3 assists in 15 games (while pairing with Matt Halischuk and J.P. Dumont/Blake Geoffrion for the most part), Mueller made the most of his one year, two-way AHL/NHL contract this year and I would hate to see the team let go of what has flourished into one of Nashville’s best young gritty prospects

Outlook: RE-SIGNED (a little more money, mid-range deal)

Brett Palin

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Signing with the Predators in the off-season last year, he had a pretty steady season for the Admirals on the blue-line. Another average defenseman, he posted 18 points in 80 games and a +8 overall and just 1 point in all 13 playoff games for Milwaukee as well.

At the current point, Palin is what I would call an “AHL-lifer”. Signing with the Flames in 2005 as an undrafted free agent and then signing with Nashville this year, Palin has yet to play a game in the NHL in his 6 years as a professional player. Do I see it happening any time soon? Not really. However is he needed? Absolutely. Another solid blue-liner does nothing but help the Predators organization and the Admirals are a treasure trove of them. I don’t think this trend bucks in Palin’s case

Outlook: RE-SIGNED (same pay, short term deal)

Mark Santorelli

Status: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Drafted by the Predators in 2007, he is the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins ALL-time leader in assists, points, and games played…however that same success hasn’t translated to the Predators organization. Santorelli has had 31 points in 122 career professional games since being drafted and is, at best, a mere shadow of his brother Mike who plays with Florida.

He’s very speedy and has all the ability to be a good player, however just in the case with his brother Mike, a change in scenery might be needed for the 23 year old. I don’t know if he’ll translate into any compensation from an offer sheet (He’ll have to be offered a little over $1 million for Nashville to get anything in return for him), but I feel he just isn’t panning out for the Predators

Outlook: GONE

Andreas Thuresson

Status: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Another draftee out of the 2007 entry draft, Thuresson has done a bit more than Santorelli has in terms of production. Having 38 points this season for Milwaukee (14 goals, 24 assists), Thuresson has the capabilities of being a dynamic player in his career.

Although he only played 3 games with the Predators this year compared to his 22 last season, Thuresson seems to be one or two plays from breaking out and being the next Swedish superstar, however he’s also very capable of just being a lifer in the minor leagues. That’s what you take a chance with in the later rounds in the draft, that you may get a diamond in the rough. Although Thuresson has only been in the organization a few years and has had a few chances with the big club, he has yet to break through. Could a new contract and a good training camp do the trick?

Outlook: RE-SIGNED (same pay, short term deal)

Kelsey Wilson

Status: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT

This Season: Besides looking a bit like Radulov, it was just another average season from an average player. Although he was the hero in Game 6 for the Admirals second-round series against the Houston Aeros, Wilson has averaged around 20-ish points a season in his tenure with Milwaukee since the 2007 season (with a brief blip when he left in 2009 to play Austria).

Wilson would probably be a 4th-liner in the NHL on any team, in my opinion, but does fairly well in the minor leagues as a role player and he’s a cheap pick-up as well. Although he is a steady player, Milwaukee has enough steady role players on their team and could have a few more as well after the draft/free agency/training camp this year and I think Wilson will be looking for another home after everything is said and done.

Outlook: GONE

SO! Out of the 14 players with contracts expiring, my brain thinks that only half of those will get contracts to remain with the team in their current role or something greater (or less, depending on their performance).

The only REAL question mark in my mind still is Dekanich. The man can play, there is no question, and he could DEFINITELY be a great pickup for any other organization. He’s one of the few players I think would get a fairly good deal this off-season on an offer sheet if he isn’t re-signed by the team before Free Agency hits and could produce compensation, however Nashville has a lot of talent in goal right now (major and minor league) and his shot at a chance with the Predators may only come if Lindback or (god-forbid) Rinne get traded/sign elsewhere when their contracts expire next season. Yet…will he wait around?

We’ll look at the 9 active roster players here in the next day or so!

Thanks for reading!

~KM