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Thoughts A Brewin’: How Predators Should Handle Unrestricted Free Agents

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Photo of Jason Zucker, left, and Quinn Hughes courtesy of the Nashville Predators

After an eventful Stanley Cup Playoff run, the first decision the Nashville Predators need to make this offseason is deciding which unrestricted and restricted free agents they should bring back.

The Predators currently have 16 players from this season under contract for 2024, which amounts to 10 forwards, five defenseman, and one goaltender and accounts for $56,598,643 of the team’s salary cap.

Nashville also has an additional $11,805,556 in dead cap space from the Kyle Turris and Matt Duchene buyouts plus salary retentions for Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Johansen, meaning $68,404,199 of the Predators’ salary cap is already spoken for.

The salary cap for next season is expected to be $87.7M — a $4.3M increase from 2023. Absent trades or other roster transactions, the Predators have seven open roster spots and roughly $19.3M to use for those spots.

When it comes to the UFAs, the analysis is somewhat difficult due to salary cap constraints and determining who truly fits into the philosophy Barry Trotz and Andrew Brunette are seeking to implement on the ice.

The Predators have six UFAs: Jason Zucker, Kiefer Sherwood, Anthony Beauvillier, Tyson Barrie, Alex Carrier, and Kevin Lankinen.

In my opinion, there two players should not be brought back, two who are possibilities based on other scenarios, and two who fit plans for the immediate future and will likely return. This will save roughly $7-8M in cap space.

Barrie and Beauvillier

These are the two the Predators should part ways with. Both are good players in their respective rights, but neither fit what the Predators need right now.

Barrie is older (32) and a very good offensive talent, but obviously, there was a falling out between him and the team for whatever reason, and he presumably won’t be back.

Beauvillier is also a fine player, but he’s a depth piece and the Predators have plenty of those. He was a nice, low-risk addition at the trade deadline, but he added little value to the team and he shouldn’t be re-signed.

Beauvillier is not a player that will make major mistakes, absent permitting Pius Suter to skate freely into the slot in Game 6 for the go-ahead goal against the Canucks, but he also isn’t a player that will be determinative of whether this team moves in a positive direction. More is needed, and his roster spot is way too valuable. 

Carrier and Lankinen

Carrier and Lankinen are both possibilities to return, while I find Lankinen to be more palatable than Carrier for the Predators’ current situation.

I wrote previously that Nashville can choose either Fabbro or Carrier, but they should not be married to both. Fabbro signed a one year, $2.5M extension earlier this season, so there’s the answer.

Carrier is a good defenseman, but he never became the Ryan Ellis replacement the front office had hoped. The Predators need more size with skill on the backend, something a player like Nikita Zadorov, who’s also an impending UFA, brings. In short, the Predators need the exact opposite of Carrier.

The Predators have Roman Josi, Ryan McDonagh, Jeremy Lauzon, Luke Schenn, and Fabbro under contract, meaning two spots remain with one likely being filled by Spencer Stasney, who’s an RFA this summer.

Carrier is presumably wanting $3M per year, at minimum. Even with a hometown discount, I simply don’t see how the numbers or roster positions working out to justify keeping Carrier.

Lankinen, however, is an interesting case. I’ve previously written that I find Lankinen to be of starter quality, or at least a 1B option. I’m still not sure why he wasn’t given more action this past season to give Juuse Saros more rest.

It remains my opinion that the Predators should enter next season with Saros as a 1A and top prospect Yaroslav Askarov as a 1B. His recent play and subsequent benching in the AHL playoffs demonstrates that the Russian still needs to learn what it means to be a pro, but his skill is NHL ready.

It’s the maturity that comes with being a pro that still needs some work. Askarov needs to be in Nashville and learn the vital lessons that can only be learned at the NHL level.

For this reason, Lankinen should not be brought back. But if Saros is traded, Lankinen would be the obvious choice to take the 1A mantle and lead the way with Askarov as the backup.

If Lankinen comes back (meaning Saros is gone), a two-year, $4M contract is fine for a starting goaltender preparing the way for what many believe is the future between the pipes.

Zucker and Sherwood

Both players are the final depth pieces the Predators need for next season.

Zucker brings experience, grit, and some depth scoring. He was arguably Nashville’s best player during the playoffs and he most certainly stood out in Games 4 and 5 against the Canucks. His familiarity with Brunette seemed to make his adjustment into the new system flow quite smoothly.

He’s not a $5.3M per year player, but the only reason his salary was heightened last season is because the Arizona Coyotes overpaid him for a one-year deal to convince him to sign.

Giving Zucker a contract in the $3.5M per year range is reasonable if the California native would like to call Nashville home for a bit longer. If he wants $4M or more, and/or a contract more than two years, I’m fine with letting him walk.

Sherwood brings the raw emotion. He craves every second of ice time he gets, and he plays like each shift may be his last. Last season was his first being in the NHL the entire season, and he relished every second. That daily drive and determination is a welcomed piece to Brunette’s relentless mentality.

Cole Smith and Michael McCarron were extended during the season, so it’s only right to extend the third musketeer of the “identity” line at a league minimum deal with a little bonus for his commitment. A one-year, $900k deal is a good one for a player like Sherwood.

“I’m excited to get back to work now that you get a little taste of playoffs and, you know, kind of getting the identity I need to play with,” Sherwood told Nashville Hockey Now. “So now I have a bit more clarity on what I need to do.”

Sherwood has had a career toeing between the NHL and AHL levels, but he’s proven he’s a full-time NHLer. Bringing him back doesn’t break the bank, and there isn’t much of a difference for this particular position on the open market.

Salary-cap implications

If the Predators were to make these moves, they will have filled two spots (Zucker and Sherwood) for a total of roughly $4.4M. This would leave the Predators with approximately $14.9M in cap space to fill out the remainder of their roster, which has openings for three forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender.

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

Be sure to follow Nashville Hockey Now on X/Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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