The Nashville Predators traded away two young roster players yesterday, electing to add more NHL experience and size to their lineup in exchange for the potential of Kevin Fiala and Ryan Hartman.
While Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds undoubtedly make the Predators a better team right now, trading away young talents like Fiala and Hartman was probably a difficult decision for David Poile. The Predators invested over four years in the development of Kevin Fiala and invested a first round pick to get Ryan Hartman. And since both are still under 24 years old, the Preds bailed fairly early on these two guys.
However, in reality, trading away Fiala and Hartman gives the Predators considerably more roster control over the next few years.
Roster control is easier (though not cheaper) with UFAs
With this move, the Predators shifted the bulk of their work for the 2019 summer from dealing with restricted free agents (RFAs) to dealing with unrestricted free agents (UFAs). While dealing with RFAs is considerably cheaper for the team, dealing with UFAs allows you to shop the market and find players that fit your team.
Prior to the trade, the Predators had four RFAs to sign to contracts this summer: Fiala, Hartman, Rocco Grimaldi, and Colton Sissons. With the trade, the Preds remove two RFAs from that list and now have four players on expiring UFA contracts: Wayne Simmonds, Brian Boyle, Cody McLeod, and Zac Rinaldo.
Not only that, the two RFAs they have remaining, Grimaldi and Sissons, are going to be much cheaper than Fiala and Hartman. Grimaldi, who has been a great addition, probably signs for less than $1 million for multiple years. Sissons probably signs for north of $1 million, but not more than $2 million. Fiala was probably looking at $5 million at least, while Hartman will probably get $2 or $3 million.
But with four expiring UFA contracts, the Preds have a lot more control over their roster for 2019-20 and beyond. They don’t have to commit to Kevin Fiala, who was increasingly not fitting the system that Peter Laviolette was implementing. They don’t need to lock up a guy like Hartman, not knowing when he will finally have a break through.
Now the Predators can do a bit more shopping on July 1st (something they were unable to do last summer) and re-design their roster to fit the demands of the league.
Expansion draft is coming
The writing is on the wall: the league is going to be adding a 32nd team in Seattle, more than likely in the 2021-22 season. That would put the next expansion draft in June of 2021.
Looking ahead to 2021, the Preds were going to have some very tough decisions for the expansion draft. Keeping eight skaters (four defensemen + four forwards) was going to leave some awfully important players available for Seattle. The Preds would protect Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Kyle Turris, but then what about guys like Kevin Fiala? Ryan Hartman?
If the Preds had proceeded to sign Fiala and Hartman to contracts this summer, one of those contracts (or Calle Jarnkrok) would essentially be destined for Seattle. David Poile avoided having to sign a team friendly contract for another team by trading away those two pieces on Monday.
Big UFA’s are looming
Related to the first point, since the Predators traded away two RFAs and now have two UFA roster spots open in July 2019, they are in the race for some big time UFAs.
Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson are all unrestricted free agents this summer that I could see the Preds targetting. While they might eventually get outbid by another team for one of these guys, they wouldn’t even be in the conversation if they don’t create the roster space with these two trades.
Of course, of all those names, Matt Duchene is the biggest. With all the noise around Duchene “wanting to be in Nashville” and with him seemingly being an obvious fit here, it would make perfect sense to go after Duchene in free agency.
It’s not crazy to think that perhaps David Poile punted on landing Duchene with a trade, knowing he would have a chance to sign him long term in July.
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