As the minutes tick by and the days count down until free agency begins Sunday morning, the city of Nashville is starting to feel like they are living their daily lives in a sauna, and not just because the temperature is beginning to spill over into triple digits.
Ryan Suter has the entire organization at a standstill, waiting to figure out if he will return to the only team he has called home or pack his bags and move his family to any one of the many teams preparing to hand him what should be the biggest payday for a defenseman in the history of the NHL, higher than Brian Campbell’s current cap hit of $7.142mil a year.
Some out there are speculating that due to recent contracts that have been signed by defensemen Dennis Wideman ($5.25mil) and Erik Karlsson ($6.5mil), Ryan Suter could demand $8-$10 million a season easily. While this doesn’t surprise me a bit, this also leads to a bit of concern as well.
Let’s think about this in a logical sense: Ryan Suter will probably get somewhere around $8-$8.5mil, in my opinion. Suter easily deserves this amount of money as he is arguably one of the top 3 defenseman in the entire world. Taking that into consideration, what will Shea Weber command next year (or perhaps even this year)? As Weber is currently a restricted free agent with the Predators, he should remain Nashville’s captain through the upcoming season unless a team is truly desperate and wants to sign him to an offer sheet, thus giving the Predators a treasure trove in compensation.
Now, in the aforementioned example of Suter’s potential haul-in, I’d expect Weber to get $9-$9.5mil, eclipsing Suter’s record contract. So, you’re looking at around $25-$26 million locked up between three players. No other team in the National Hockey League has this much money tied up in only three players. While the Predators would have the top defensive pair and one of the top goalies in the world tied up for extensive long-term contracts, their offense (and remaining defense) would rely on up and coming prospects and a hodgepodge of good to average players to try and bring home a Stanley Cup.
Nashville has 9 forwards/3 defensemen/1 goaltender signed through the 2012-2013 season and only FOUR players signed PAST the upcoming season. So, while the Predators could potentially have Suter/Weber/Rinne signed for 6-7 years, there will be a possible revolving door for the remaining 18 players on the roster. It’s even hard to imagine a time without the services of David Legwand and Martin Erat, however Legwand’s contract expires in two seasons while Erat’s expires in three.
As Nashville currently waits to find out Suter’s decision, the longer he waits the more detrimental it will be for the Predators as an organizational whole. You can’t argue that having a Ryan Suter on the roster would instantly make a team better, but what lies in waiting are a slew of prospects that can fill the void while working with the current veteran leadership to speed along their progress.
No, I’m not saying putting a rookie/prospect in place of Ryan Suter is the answer, but Nashville needs to start accepting the inevitable possibility that Suter will most likely not be a member of the Predators organization come next week. Even without Suter in the lineup next season, Nashville would have Shea Weber/Kevin Klein/Roman Josi/Ryan Ellis and most likely Hal Gill ready to go. That leaves only one spot the team would have to fill to round out the defense corps. Whether it be a veteran defenseman grabbed through free agency/trade OR if the Predators decide to promote an Ekholm/Bartley up to the final spot, Nashville’s defense will be just as efficient as they always are.
So, the problem that lies in face of the Predators is: potentially sacrifice future signings by handcuffing the organization with 3 of the largest contracts in the league OR let one of the best defensemen in the world walk for what would now be absolutely nothing and hedging their bets that this decision won’t change the outcome of the franchise for years to come, both clearly being high-risk/high-reward scenarios.
My advice: let Suter walk. David Poile has been faithful to Ryan Suter since he was drafted 7th overall in 2003, including answering requests from Suter himself to prove that the team was committed to winning. While some of that had to do with ownership essentially telling Poile that money isn’t an object and to do whatever it takes to bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville, Poile gambled that Radulov/Andrei Kostitsyn/and Hal Gill could help make that dream a reality.
While this didn’t turn out to be the case and Nashville was ousted in the second round for the second year in a row, the ownership group and Poile are taking the next step in proving that Nashville is a “go-to” destination where the words “winning” and “loyalty” are synonymous with the culture that is Nashville Predators hockey. Yet, there comes a time when a general manager has to decide if he is going to be loyal to a player or loyal to the organization.
Yes, it’s good to show loyalty to members of what could only be described as one of the most tight-knit hockey families in the entire NHL. Yes, there are many occasions where a GM can be loyal to both the player and the organization. However, at the same time, this is a business. It’s always been a business where the end-goal is to win the Stanley Cup. David Poile has already passed the point of no return in the Ryan Suter saga and the events of the upcoming 10-14 days may easily define the franchise for years to come.
Nashville can survive without the services of Ryan Suter. With Ryan Ellis (possibly the next great elite defenseman) ready to play, Roman Josi already establishing himself as part of the defensive future of Nashville, and names like Ekholm/Blum/Bartley/Bitetto/Roussel ready to go, the Predators are definitely not defensively-starved. This is all thanks to the consistent drafting efforts of David Poile and his amazing scouting group.
Will Poile’s gamble lead to ticker-tape parades ending at Broadway and 5th avenue? Or will it be a definitive black mark on the storied career of one of the greatest General Managers in the history of the NHL?