From Stanley Cup finalists in 2016-17 to a second-round exit in 2017-18 and a first-round post-season ousting this past season, the Nashville Predators have taken steps backward, not forward, in consecutive seasons. So, ask anyone familiar with the organization and you’ll hear the same thing: changes are coming.
How exactly GM David Poile goes about those changes is to be seen, however. Some believe there will be major moves, with the underperforming Kyle Turris and high-priced P.K. Subban most likely to land on the chopping block. Others feel there’s deck shuffling to be done elsewhere, possibly in the middle of the lineup where some additional scoring punch could be added if Poile gets creative in a transaction. And others yet are of the mind that Nashville may undergo nothing more than minor changes and give the core of this group one more kick at the can.
Regardless what alterations Poile decides to make, though, it’s awfully clear Nashville captain and defensive anchor Roman Josi won’t be going anywhere. It was reported last week by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun that Poile sees a new contract for Josi, who is currently set to become an unrestricted free agent at the culmination of the 2019-20 season, as one of the top priorities for his team this summer.
An extension for Josi, 28, will be interesting for a few reasons. At present, he is signed to one of the most team-friendly deals in the NHL, offering the Predators the services of a Norris Trophy caliber rearguard for $4-million per season. But that deal, inked back in June 2013, expires following the coming campaign. What that means is that Josi will become eligible for a contract extension as of July 1, and given his offensive consistency, defensive responsibilities and that he has two top-five finishes, one seventh-place finish and one 11th-place finish in Norris voting in the past four seasons, he’s in line for a sizeable raise.
How sizeable? Well, consider the contracts other top-tier defenders have signed in recent years. Since July 1, 2017, seven defenders have signed pacts that carried cap hits upwards of $6.5 million. Drew Doughty’s deal with the Los Angeles Kings carries an $11-million cap hit. Oliver Ekman-Larsson earned $8.25-million per season on his eight-year extension with the Arizona Coyotes. The Washington Capitals handed John Carlson an eight-year, $64-million deal. Considering Josi can put his numbers up against any of those blueliners, chances are he’s looking at something in at least the $8.5 million-range with the Predators.
Adding another contract of that magnitude – Subban has a $9-million cap hit and Ryan Ellis is earning $6.25-million per season – will inevitably mean that one of the big earners on the Nashville blueline will have to move, and the Predators will need to consider what happens when Mattias Ekholm’s team-friendly deal, which carries a $3.75-million cap hit, is up following the 2021-22 campaign. Any way you slice it, there will be cap-clearing deals made at some point in the not-too-distant future, and Josi’s extension will play a part in those deals becoming a necessity.
Josi isn’t the only future UFA who is likely to sign a big-money extension this summer, however. There are several others who could be locked up long-term shortly after free agency opens. Here are four other players inching towards free agency who are prime candidates to sign noteworthy extensions this summer:
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
There exists potential for a few contracts signed this summer to reach into the double-digit millions. Erik Karlsson could certainly command that much money, depending on what he’s after. A two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender such as Sergei Bobrovsky could flirt with a Carey Price-esque cap hit. Artemi Panarin has been one of the league’s elite scorers over the past few seasons, so he seems a prime candidate, too. Add in Mitch Marner’s new pact, Patrik Laine’s possible deal and Brayden Point’s potential ask and there’s a lot of money that’s going to be handed out this summer. But the highest-priced extension seems destined to be the one the Devils work out with Hall, should the two sides come to an agreement.
Not only is Hall one season removed from winning the Hart Trophy, but his offensive numbers over the past two seasons in New Jersey are bonkers. Yes, he missed more than half of the past campaign, but in the 109 games he appeared, Hall scored 50 goals, 130 points and posted the NHL’s 16th-highest goals per 60 minutes rate (1.43) and fifth-highest points per 60 minutes rate (3.71) at all strengths.
Given the increase we’ve seen in recent years for top talents, too – Tyler Seguin has a nearly $10-million cap hit moving forward, John Tavares signed for $11-million per season, Mark Stone’s new pact carries a $9.5-million AAV – it seems reasonable to expect Hall to sign an extension with a cap hit in the $9.5 million-range. And the Devils, who have $54.6 million in projected cap space next season, have more than enough spending room to make such a deal work now and into the future.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Close your eyes and try to picture Backstrom in anything other than a Capitals jersey. You can’t, can you? He’s one of those players who seems destined to play his career in one place, and Washington can almost make certain of that by inking the 31-year-old, who could hit the open market next summer if he’s without a pact, to a long-term deal. And really, why wouldn’t Washington be open to handing Backstrom a hefty extension?
Since entering the league in 2007-08, Backstrom has remained remarkably healthy and he’s been among the league’s top point producers. In fact, the only players who have outscored Backstrom since his rookie campaign are Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and of the nearly 350 players with at least 500 games played since 2007-08, Backstrom is tied for eighth at .98 points per game.
He’s shown no sign of slowing down, continues to be a high-minutes center and his game is heavily based no playmaking, not pure goal scoring. That bodes well for his productivity into the future, just as it has for someone such as Joe Thornton. An extension with an $8-million cap hit doesn’t seem out of the question.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
It wasn’t all that long ago that Pietrangelo, 29, was considered trade fodder. The Blues were well out of a playoff spot, at risk of missing the post-season for a second season running, and the talk was that St. Louis could start to turnover its roster in light of another failed season. The reversal of fortunes, which has now come complete with a Western Conference crown and trip to the Stanley Cup final, has erased all doubt that this group can get the job done, though, and it’s likely now that GM Doug Armstrong will do what he can to keep his core intact. One of the big to-dos? Pietrangelo, the Blues captain, who will enter the final season of a seven-year, $45.5-million deal in 2019-20.
Given he’s paced the blueline in scoring throughout the playoffs and led them to a conference crown, Pietrangelo has likely upped his asking price. It won’t hurt, either, that Pietrangelo has two top-10 Norris finishes since he inked his last deal. He’s the centerpiece of St. Louis’ defense, and that’s going to come with a hefty raise, potentially in the $8-million range.
Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
You know that old trope about death and taxes? Add Torey Krug and off-season trade rumors to the mix. The thing is, though, that the Bruins’ blueline is entering an interesting time. Zdeno Chara will be back next year, but the 42-year-old is getting awfully long in the tooth and there’s going to be far more room to spend on the blueline come next off-season than there has been in the past. Yes, Boston will have to reach pacts with pending restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, but after that, the Bruins could have significant room to spend on bolstering their blueline. And it might make sense to keep that spending in house, particularly as Krug has consistently proven his worth as an offensive-minded second pairing blueliner.
Matter of fact, care to venture a guess how many rearguards have more points than Krug over the past five seasons? It’s 10, and of blueliners with at least 200 games played since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Krug’s .65 points per game ranks 12th in the NHL. The 28-year-old seems a prime candidate to get locked up before his pending free agency becomes a story, and one has to figure he’ll be searching for a deal that takes him into the $7 million-range.
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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