The Nashville Predators will have Ryan Hartman back next season for a relative discount, after the team announced a new one-year contract worth $875K for the restricted free agent. Hartman is coming off his entry-level contract but won’t get much of a raise despite consecutive seasons with 31 points.
Hartman, 23, was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the deadline for a package that included a first-round pick and talented prospect Victor Ejdsell. Nashville clearly believed that Hartman could be a key piece up front going forward for them, given his blend of physicality and skill. He scored 19 goals for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season and though that number dropped to just 11 last season his presence was still felt in the Predators lineup. In nine playoff games he recorded three points including a game-winning goal against the Colorado Avalanche.
Going forward, Hartman should be able to negotiate a bigger contract. Though he’ll be part of an extremely deep forward group in Nashville, there’s good reason to believe he can break that 31-point mark this season and represent one of the best bargains in the league. Making less than $1MM is usually reserved for fringe NHL players or veterans holding on to the end of their careers, not full-time roster players with enough upside to garner big trade packages at the deadline. The Predators are actually heading into the season with plenty of cap space given the relatively inexpensive restricted free agents that remain unsigned. The team could still make a big move this summer to bring in some more salary, but will have to be careful not to limit their ability to retain Ryan Ellis going forward. The defenseman is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in 2019 and could receive a huge extension at any time.
This is the epitome of a “prove it” contract for Hartman, who only scored six points down the stretch for the Predators following the trade. Though he is effective in more ways than just offense, it will look like a big miss on the part of GM David Poile if he can’t generate the kind of offense he did in Chicago. If a career-high mark is coming this season he’ll certainly set himself up to negotiate a long-term contract next summer, especially given that he will be arbitration eligible for the first time. Hartman is putting most of the risk on his shoulders though, as any struggles could limit his earning potential going forward. For both sides, offensive production and on-ice success is the goal of any contract, but especially so in such an inexpensive short-term deal.