The Nashville Predators come into February at a bit of an impasse where they can either show how serious they are as contenders or they can show how committed they are to being a mediocre franchise content on losing in the first round of the playoffs every season.
Last week at the NHL All-Star Game, Nashville Predators defenseman and pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Suter came out and stated bluntly that he will not be signing a contract extension with the Predators before the trade deadline. This immediately caused speculation that Suter intends to jump ship once he’s a free agent. But this may not be the case.
Many players will opt not to engage in contract negotiations after a certain period in the season – especially if the team continues to stay in the playoff hunt. Suter may fall into this category where he simply doesn’t want negotiations to shadow his play as the Predators look to secure a playoff berth.
“I want to focus on playing for Nashville,” Suter said to clarify his earlier comments. “We’ve got a good team and if we can add a couple of pieces here and there I think we have a legitimate chance of going to win the Stanley Cup.”
Suter’s clarification on his previous comments could be more telling of his intentions for the future than the initial comments themselves. While many jumped on the notion that Suter was basically saying he wanted to test the open market as a free agent, his clarification insinuates a different notion – that he wants to see how dedicated to winning Nashville really is.
At 27-years-old, Suter could be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer if he doesn’t sign an extension. And surely his willingness to sign will depend on what Nashville does at the trade deadline later this month.
Coming into the trade deadline, the Predators possess more than $14 million in cap space. However, the Predators have been incredibly reluctant to spend significantly in the past on free agent talent. After all, this is the team that was rumored to be offering Shea Weber $4.5 million per season in contract negotiations last summer. While that number may have just been a rumor, Nashville has still been behind the eight ball when it comes to attracting highly talented free agents thanks to their reluctance to spend significantly on high-end talent.
Weber himself will be a restricted free agent this summer, and, like Suter, his future with Nashville seems in flux because both players want to know that Nashville is willing to take the necessary steps toward building a winner. Before re-signing with the Predators, each player wants to know that the team is moving in the right direction. Otherwise they may look to jump ship for a team willing to do what it takes to win.
Nashville currently sits fourth in the Western Conference with an impressive 9-1-0 record over their past 10 games. The losses of Joel Ward and Steve Sullivan to free agency last summer, a combined total of 20 goals and 51 points, hasn’t seemed to effect the Predators greatly as they still rank 11th in the NHL in goals scored per game. Still, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber remain vital parts of that team’s success and losing either of them could be a devastating blow.
It’s highly unlikely that either Suter or Weber gets traded at the trade deadline as some have speculated, but if Nashville intends to get serious about winning, this is the season to do it. The Predators are playing awesome hockey this season and are primed for a solid playoff run. Adding a talented scorer or maybe some scoring depth at the trade deadline could go a long way to help that cause. It could also go a long way toward convincing their own players how serious they are about winning both now, and in the future.