Salary Dumping Continues

After losing Joel Ward and Steve Sullivan last week to free agency, the Predators have continued to dump salaries, this time in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The deal sends Matthew Lombardi, who played only two games for Nashville last season after suffering a concussion, and Cody Franson to Toronto in exchange for defenseman Brett Lebda and forward Robert Slaney. In addition, a conditional fourth-round draft pick is included; if Lombardi plays at least 60 games for Toronto over the next two seasons, then the Predators get a fourth from Toronto, and if he does not, then the Leafs get a fourth from Nashville.

dumpin' salaries
Nashville general manager David Poile in his office discussing free agency.

The Lombardi signing for Nashville had proven to be something of a bust. It became obvious that, not only was he not going to be playing for the Predators ever again, but he may never suit up to play a game of hockey ever again. Nashville needed to dump his contract off on someone, as they simply couldn’t afford to keep a player who would effectively become deadweight, especially not when they have one very important free agent to retain this off season.

Are these salary dumps by the Preds being done simply to hang on to Shea Weber, and to lock up Ryan Suter and superstar goalie Pekka Rinne into long term deals (both have contracts that run out at the end of next season)? Or is there something else in play?

It seems very reasonable to believe that Nashville wants to dump off as much money as they can, to guarantee that they hang on to their most valuable players. However, thus far that has come at a pretty steep price. Ward, Sully, Franson, O’Brien…these guys aren’t exactly franchise players, but they were all key cogs in the most successful Predators team ever.

There are other possibilities in play as well, however. Perhaps there are some other free agents out there who have caught the eye of Nashville’s front office. Although the team is known as mostly “bargain-bin” shoppers on the free agent market, perhaps there are a few players out there who the Predators are interested in, and they wouldn’t be able to add them (and retain their biggest free agents) without letting go of a few good players.

Whatever the case is, I would like to believe that the Predators have a smart, savvy front office that simply determines the value of their players, and then refuses to over pay for them.  Predators’ general manager David Poile has expressed that sort of sentiment in the past, and that was his reasoning for letting go of the free agents we’ve lost so far.

The only trouble is that…well that may not be the whole truth. There is also the distinct possibility that Nashville may be losing even more players in the very near future—and not simply because they do not want to over pay them, but because of a lapse of competency by the front office.

According to ESPN.com, the NHL players’ association has filed a grievance against the Predators for improperly issuing qualifying offers to restricted free agents. There was a deadline of 5 p.m. on (last) Monday to turn in the paperwork…and the Predators were late. How the hell does something like that happen?

The players who this affects are Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt Halischuk, Nick Spaling, Cal O’Reilly, and three minor league prospects. If the grievance is upheld, then those players would become free agents, rather than restricted free agents. This means that they would be fair game to any team in the league, and even if Nashville matches the offer, the players could walk away for nothing. This may be the real reason for the salary dumps, because it has become obvious that it will be difficult to hang onto all of these guys as free agents AND give Weber a big contract.

For now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope that this was a mistake on the part of the NHLPA, and not the Predators, and hope that we don’t lose any more important players.

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