The Nashville Predators have locked up a young defenseman, signing Dante Fabbro to a two-year contract. The deal will carry a salary of $2.4MM in both years, and means that the two sides will no longer need their arbitration hearing scheduled for August 20.
Fabbro, 23, has become everything the Predators hoped for when they selected him 17th overall in 2016, stepping into a top-four role on the team the last two seasons. He averaged more than 19 minutes a night through 40 appearances this year, registering 12 points. That role is only expected to increase now that Ryan Ellis was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, leaving Fabbro as the team’s top right-handed defenseman. There are others who will fight for those minutes, but Fabbro likely has the inside track on that open spot next to captain Roman Josi.
Even if he doesn’t end up on that pairing, there will be a big chance for Fabbro to show some more offensive upside for the Predators as well. At Boston University in 2018-19, Fabbro was dynamic with the puck on his stick, racking up 33 points in 38 games. While he’ll likely never become a true powerplay quarterback, the team will need him to add a little more offense moving forward.
If he does, it could be a big payday for the young defenseman two years from now. For now, this contract leaves the team with plenty of cap space, though at least a good chunk of it will be eaten up by restricted free agent Juuse Saros. The 26-year-old goaltender is going to get a huge raise after his Vezina-caliber season, but still, the Predators could have been even more aggressive during free agency. Perhaps GM David Poile is looking at a salary cap that isn’t expected to see any significant movement for several years and isn’t willing to overspend, but the team currently sits with more than $17.6MM in room as the season approaches.
In Fabbro’s case specifically, the team has set themselves up for massive excess value if he can take another step forward and become a top-pairing player. That alone would make this a win for the Predators, even if their overall strategy this offseason—moving on from key players like Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson while re-signing Mikael Granlund to a $20MM contract—has left some questioning whether they’re trying to contend or rebuild.