Free agency is now just days from opening up and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Here is a breakdown of Nashville’s free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agents: G Juuse Saros — The goaltender of the future just burned his final year of his entry-level deal and now goes into restricted free agency. Still blocked by Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne, the 23-year-old netminder has transitioned nicely into the team’s backup who can give the 35-year-old Rinne a breather once in a while. In a career-high 26 NHL games last year, Saros put up a 2.45 GAA and more importantly a .925 save percentage.
With Rinne on the last year of his current seven-year, $49MM deal he signed back in 2011, Saros time as the starting goaltender of the future could come soon, who even managed to make four appearances in the team’s abbreviated playoff run. With an AAV of $925K last season, Saros should get a nice bump up in pay next season.
F Ryan Hartman — The gritty forward was picked up at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks for their playoff run and projects as a solid and versatile bottom-six option for a deep Nashville roster. The 23-year-old posted a 31-point season between the two teams last year, including three goals and six points in 21 games with the Predators, while averaging 13:46 of ATOI. He added another two goals in nine playoff games for Nashville. After a season in which he made just $863K last season, he should get a raise, but with no arbitration rights, probably won’t cost the team too much.
Other RFA’s: F Miikka Salomaki.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: Alexei Emelin — The team traded for Emelin last offseason as a means to bring in a potential top-four defenseman to fill in for the injured Ryan Ellis for the first half of the season. The 32-year-old posted almost the exact same numbers last year, but once Ellis returned in January, Emelin’s minutes dropped and in the end averaged a career-low in minutes with just 16:53 ATOI. He will take a major paycut after receiving $4.1MM last year in a deal he signed with Montreal back in 2013. However, with seven defensemen with NHL experience already locked up on the Predators roster, it doesn’t look like Emelin will return to Nashville next season.
F Scott Hartnell — While the 36-year-old had respectable numbers in his return to Nashville, the 17-year veteran is not expected to return to Nashville with the amount of young talent that is trying to break into the Predators lineup. Regardless, the veteran has already stated that he intends to play for another season, but almost assuredly will be looking for a new home.
Projected Cap Space: The Predators are projected to have $12MM in available cap space going into free agency and while the team does have to lock up a couple restricted free agents like Saros and Hartman, the team has money to play with. Regardless, the Predators haven’t been in on many free agent rumors so far suggesting the team might hold back and add specialty players to team that intends to challenge for a Stanley Cup this year. The team also must be ready to have the eventual cap space to lock up Ellis, who will be a free agent in the 2019-20 season.