The Nashville Predators and general manager David Poile made a few calculated moves on July 1st, the opening day of free agency in the NHL. After a hugely successful season, the Predators roster remains largely intact. Poile added a few depth pieces at very team-friendly prices. He set the Predators up for another deep playoff run next year. Below is a look at each of the signings and trades the Predators made. We examine what they will mean for the team going forward.
Nashville Predators Free Agent Signings Round Out Roster
Poile’s first move on July first was to sign free agent center Nick Bonino. The signing sees Bonino change allegiance from this past Stanley Cup Final. Although the Predators chose to protect depth center Calle Jarnkrok in the expansion draft at the expense of James Neal, the team still needed another center. Veteran second line pivot Mike Fisher has yet to decide whether he will return to the NHL next season or retire. Bonino quickly fills the hole that Fisher would leave.
Bonino is entering his ninth season in the NHL after spending time with Anaheim, Vancouver and Pittsburgh. In 407 career regular season games, he has 75 goals and 187 points. While those numbers do not exactly jump off the page, Bonino did not see a full NHL season until 2013-14 with Anaheim. In this season, he managed a career-best 49 points in 77 games played. In his last two seasons in Pittsburgh, Bonino totaled 66 points in 143 games played. At 28, he may be past his peak, but he is still well within the prime of his career.
The Predators signed Bonino for four years at a cap hit of $4.1 million per season. This deal works for both team and player. While most successful players seek, and are granted, long term deals as unrestricted free agents, the Predators managed to lock up a second-line center until he is just 32. In turn, Bonino heads to a contending team in a state that does not tax income. This move by the Predators gives them more forward depth, which they so desperately lacked in the Stanley Cup Final last season. Should Fisher chose to return for another season, they look that much stronger with Ryan Johansen, Bonino, Fisher, and Jarnkrok down the middle.
After reinforcing the team at center, Poile set to work to replace some of James Neal’s scoring on the wing. Poile also needed to do so cheaply. Scott Hartnell fit the bill perfectly. Having been previously bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hartnell needed a home. The Predators, his former team, provided a landing place for a season and $1 million. In his last season with the Blue Jackets, Hartnell scored 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games played. These were his lowest totals in recent seasons by a wide margin.
He is not the player that he once was, but he does not need to be. The Predators have young wingers capable of production. Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala established themselves last season, and Vladislav Kamenev should challenge for a roster spot. At 35 years old, Hartnell will not see any first line minutes in Nashville. If he can get himself back to the 20-goal range this season, he will help to make up the 23 goals Neal scored last season.
Poile also signed two goalie free agents on July 1st in Matt O’Connor and Anders Lindback. O’Connor recently finished his second season with Ottawa’s American Hockey League affiliate the Binghamton Senators. There he posted rather modest numbers, winning just 14 of his 37 games played. Lindback, also a former Predator, finished last season playing in Sweden after being demoted from the NHL.
Both contracts are identical at one year, $650,000. These moves suggest that the team is prepared to give Juuse Saros more responsibility. The signing of Lindback also provides some depth and stability at backup should the Predators decide that Saros needs more time to season in the AHL.
Colin Wilson to Colorado
After signing Bonino, Poile and the Predators needed to jettison some salary in order to stay within the team’s internal budget. Signed for nearly $4 million per season for another two years, Colin Wilson’s contract was just slightly smaller than the one the team gave to Bonino. Although often effective during playoffs, Wilson has struggled to find consistency, so he was traded to Colorado for the Avalanche’s fourth-round pick in 2019. This trade also clears space within the roster for the aforementioned young players.
Alexei Emelin from Vegas
In a move that many thought signaled Nashville’s preparation to pursue Matt Duchene, the Predators acquired Alexei Emelin from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a third-round pick in 2019. The Golden Knights also retain $1.2 million of Emelin’s $4.1 million salary. As the dust settled, it became clear that the Predators intend to hold on to Emelin. His current contract is good for one more season, and he will likely slot in on the third defensive pairing with Yannick Weber.
In 76 games played with the Canadiens last season, Emelin managed just 10 points and two goals. He fits well in the bottom pairing. He brings physicality to the game, and can hold his own against competition. For the Predators to take on his entire salary would have been ill-advised. The fact that they get him for a year at a reasonable rate bodes well for the team’s already elite defense.
With July 1st come and gone, the Predators and Poile now turn their attention to re-signing their own free agent forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen. The team has ample cap room to award these players their deserved raise. At that point the roster will be near finalized, and poised to make another strong run at the Cup.