Here is the first of a three-part series, in which I’ll be looking at the Nashville Predators position-by-position and how they shape up heading into the off-season. Today we take a gander at the defensive core…
Under contract for 10/11: Shea Weber Ryan Suter Kevin Klein Alexander Sulzer Unsigned: Dan Hamhuis Francis Bouillon Cody Franson (RFA) Denis Grebeshkov (RFA) Teemu Laakso (RFA) Prospects on the horizon: Jonathan Blum Ryan Ellis Roman Josi Charles-Olivier Roussel
The first order of business for GM David Poile this summer is to figure out which defensemen to re-sign. There’s been a lot of speculation as to whom the team will bring back, and they are certainly tough decisions for Poile to make. My gut tells me Dan Hamhuis and Francis Bouillon will be donning the black and blue (that sounds weird!) next year, with Grebeshkov being the odd-man out; but I would go in a different direction.
Unless Hamhuis takes a considerable hometown discount, I’d opt to renew Grebeshkov’s contract. ‘Grebs’ was one of the Predators’ best defenseman in the six games he played in after coming over from Edmonton. In Games 5 and 6 against Chicago, he had two assists and was a plus-2 – with a month’s worth of rust. His smarts with the puck on his stick are impressive, and something this club needs on the power play.
If it comes down to Hamhuis or Grebeshkov, I’d keep the Russian. He’s probably going to be a cheaper signing of the two, and would allow more cap space (down the road) to extend Weber’s and Suter’s deals. This isn’t a knock on ‘Hammer’, as he’s provided the Preds with solid play over the years. But you can’t keep them all, and I believe he’s replaceable. I wouldn’t give him a deal over $4 million a season (which could be his minimum rate on the open market).
Along with ‘Grebs’, Poile should do everything in his power to bring Bouillon back. ‘Cube’ was exceptional on the back end and was durable – which is impressive given all of the hits he dished out (and received). Having him on the blueline for another year would be a plus. ---
You know what you’re going to get from the Preds’ big guns on the back end; or maybe not, as on some nights Weber and Suter were a bit all over the place this year. Overall, though, this is one of the best pairings in the league. Both were standouts at the Olympics in February, playing a vital part in their respective teams advancing to the gold medal game.
But the question is how long Nashville can keep these two in town. Weber is a restricted free agent next summer, with Suter’s contract expiring in 2012.
Weber is obviously going to seek the big bucks, as every year he’s improving and further becoming one of the league’s premier defenseman. Can this franchise afford to throw $7-plus million at one player? That’s pushing it. At least, for Poile, he will be restricted and wouldn’t be free to sign with anyone on July 1, 2011. Once the frenzy dies down, I’d try to extend Weber’s contract.
One of the burning issues surrounding Nashville’s off-season is the captaincy… and if Jason Arnott loses the ‘C’, then Weber or Suter will likely take over. They’re home-grown and the backbone of the roster’s core. Given Weber’s contract situation, I’d hand the ‘C’ over to Suter. He leads by example, and I think would grow into the role quite well. Weber would be just as good a candidate, too. ---
Looking ahead to the future, the Predators’ defensive corps could be the best in the NHL in two-to-three years. Let’s take a look at what the defense may look like in 2011/12: Weber, Suter, Hamhuis or Grebeshkov, Franson, Blum, Ellis, and Klein.
Um, yes please! The ceiling is so high for the group of youngsters… I don’t even know where to start!
Franson was a big surprise to Pred Nation, as his game was more polished each time he was recalled from the AHL. If this was just a sample of what this kid could do for years to come, I don’t think he’ll be donning a Milwaukee Admirals jersey anytime soon!
Blum and Ellis have been viewed as the two eventual ‘saviors’ for the man advantage, as both are power play quarterbacks. Blum may be a year closer to playing in Nashville than Ellis, but the gap is pretty darn close. I think the Preds will have one of them going up and down from the AHL next season as an injury fill-in. Both have great potential.
Klein is a mystery to me. Watching him on a nightly basis, I kept wondering what the staff saw in him. When he and Hamhuis were paired, it was ‘turnover city’ behind and in front of Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis. Preds fans will have to put up with #8 for at least three more years.
There are defensemen I didn’t even mention that will eventually crack the Preds’ lineup in the next handful of years. Alex Sulzer and Roman Josi have the ability to someday make for a nice third pairing, while Charles-Olivier Roussel is making waves at the junior level. ---
I think it’s safe to say it will be a long time before Nashville has any issues defensively (talent wise). For the present and the future, the blueline is stacked; and the bevy of prospects makes the outlook for the next three years downright scary!
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.