With Free Agency beginning at 11am central time on July 1st, Nashville will most likely be diving into the deep end with the proverbial “Great Whites” this year to land themselves a bonafide number one center to pair up with James Neal. With news out on Sunday that the Predators nearly had a deal to bring Vincent Lecavalier in from Philadelphia, it’s another reminder that David Poile is seemingly backing up his discussions from this past weekend at the draft.
With a multitude of excellent talent available to assist both newly acquired James Neal and the Predators as a whole, here is my list of the top five free agents I feel could best help the Predators in the upcoming future:
1) Paul Stastny
Previous Team: Colorado Avalanche
Previous Contract: 5 years / $33 million ($6.6mil AAV, $6.6mil cap hit)
2013-2014 Stats: 71 games played, 25 goals, 35 assists
Stastny is easily the crowned jewel of the available centers in free agency. Easily a 50+ point-scorer for the Avalanche and only 28 years old, the American center would be the definitive top-line center that Poile has been trying to land his hands on for the past couple of seasons.
There’s no question that Stastny could and will garner multiple offers as well a high salary, most likely pushing past $7.5 million, making him one of the most expensive options in this year’s free agent pool.
2) Brad Richards
Previous Team: New York Rangers
Previous Contract: 9 years / $60 million ($6.67mil AAV, $6.67mil cap hit)
2013-2014 Stats: 82 games played, 20 goals, 31 assists
Richards has been one of the league’s most productive centers over the past 13 seasons. Notching less than 40 points only once since in his entire career, during the lockout-shortened season of 2012-2013, Richards has been a true stalwart for every team he’s been a member of.
What’s better is that Richards has had a very successful history with recently acquired winger James Neal. In Richards’ entire career, only Loui Eriksson has helped put up greater stats when playing alongside him. Sign Richards, give him a chance to prove he still has something left in the tank, and let the youth develop. It’s a win-win for Nashville.
3) Mikael Grabovski
Previous Team: Washington Capitals
Previous Contract: 1 year / $3 million ($3mil AAV, $3mil cap hit)
2013-2014 Stats: 58 games played, 13 goals, 22 assists
He’s been a hot topic of discussion over the last two years. Bought out by the Maple Leafs two seasons ago after passing through waivers where no team claimed him, signing a one-year with Washington, and now floating back to the market again, Grabovski offers more than meets the eye. In each season he played more than 60 games, he’s put up at least 20 goals and averaged over 50 points on the season.
He’s a consistent point producer with extremely solid possession numbers with both the Maple Leafs and the Capitals. Grabovski would be a solid top center target for the Predators and could be had for a cheaper price, most likely, than a Stastny or Richards.
4) Milan Michalek
Position: Left Wing
Previous Team: Ottawa Senators
Previous Contract: 6 years / $26 million ($4.33mil AAV, $4.33mil cap hit)
2013-2014 Stats: 82 games played, 17 goals, 22 assists
Michalek is a very interesting and very underrated option in this years free agent class. Spending his first four years in the league with the San Jose Sharks and his last six with the Ottawa Senators, Michalek has been a reliable winger during his time in the NHL. Never falling below 30 points in a season and pushing his career high to 66 in 2006-2007 with the Sharks, Michalek could do well taking over Hornqvist’s absent spot alongside Mike Fisher, who he played alongside during his time in Ottawa.
Something else to consider is Michalek’s tremendous possession and usages statistics. Usage alone, Michalek last season was on the ice for 33% of Ottawa’s offensive zone starts. Seven full percent better than Nashville’s counterpart of Gabriel Bourque. Matching his zone start percentage from last season (56.8%) against his quality of competition percentage (29.0%), Michalek would have nearly led the Predators last season in both. He’s a player that is used to starting in the offensive end against some of the more talented players from opposing teams and still produces at a consistent rate.
Why wouldn’t you want a player like him on your team? Especially when you’re trying to replace a player out of the exact same mold.
5) Martin Havlat
Position: Right Wing
Previous Team: San Jose Sharks
Previous Contract: 6 years / $30 million ($5mil AAV, $5mil cap hit)
2013-2014 Stats: 48 games played, 12 goals, 10 assists
At 33 years old and on a considerable decline in his career, Havlat is the one “oddball” I put on this list. His advanced statistics are just fine for a player of his age, but his declining productions is something that leaves more to be desired from. He’s never played a full season in his career and hasn’t appeared in more than 50 games since his two years with Minnesota in 2009-2011.
His saving grace is his consistency when healthy. When he breaks over 50 games, he can produce over 50+ points in a season. Nashville has been known to see players take weird injuries over the years, to stifle chances late in the season. However, if Havlat can be signed for less than $5 million a year and stay healthy? It’s a high-risk/high-reward gamble that could pay off for the Predators.