Young, talented, under contract: Preds have bright future

Friday, May 11, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 19
By John Glennon

Ryan Ellis, the Predators’ only top defenseman not under long-term contract, is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2018-2019 season. Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban all have contracts with at least three years remaining.

-- Photo By Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire Via Ap Images

The highlights have flowed one after another for Predators fans over the past couple of seasons.

There was the first trip to the Western Conference Final and the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the first division title and Presidents’ Trophy – as well as the first Game 7 on home ice – already this year.

The encouraging news is that the future looks bright, as well.

Because all indications are that the core of this Predators team – which produced franchise records for regular-season wins and points – should remain among the NHL’s elite for a number of years.

Consider that 18 of the Predators on this year’s playoff roster are already under contract for next season, that 13 are under contract for at least two more seasons, and that 21 of the Preds’ current players are age 30 or younger.

Those are promising numbers for a Predators team that is one of just three NHL franchises – along with Pittsburgh and Washington – to have reached the second round of the playoffs in each of the past three years.

“Every team wants to be a team that’s there every single year, like Detroit was with that (25-year) playoff run,” Predators associate captain Ryan Ellis says. “Every team wants to build to that. I think with the core group of guys we have – and really all the guys we have are somewhat young, too – hopefully, we can all stay together as long as possible and do something special.”

A clear wake-up call

The last time the Predators set a franchise record for points during the regular season – back in 2006-07 – the end of the playoffs meant the end of an era.

Former Predators owner Craig Leipold was in the process of selling the franchise, so the Predators’ early playoff demise that year was a precursor to the trading of players like Scott Hartnell, Tomas Vokoun and Kimmo Timonen. In addition, the Predators never offered free-agent-to-be Paul Kariya a new contract.

But no such fire sale awaits this summer, as the core of this Predators team is locked up for years to come.

The Preds’ top three centers – Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino – are under contract for seven, six and three more years, respectively. Three of Nashville’s highly talented top-four defensemen – Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban – are all locked up for at least three years.

The fourth member of that quartet, Ellis, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next season. But don’t be surprised if Predators general manager David Poile signs Ellis to a long-term deal during the coming offseason.

Over the last six years, Poile has signed Viktor Arvidsson, Ekholm, Ellis (previously), Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Johansen, Josi and Turris to multi-year contracts before free-agency became a concern for any of them.

His impetus for being so pro-active with long-term deals began during the rocky summer of 2012, when the Predators lost star defenseman Ryan Suter to free agency and were also forced to match the Philadelphia Flyers’ monstrous 14-year, $110 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Shea Weber.

Nashville center Kyle Turris is one of many Predators signed to long-term contracts before approaching free agency status. GM David Poile says he learned his lesson when he was forced to match Philadelphia’s 14-year, $110 offer for Shea Weber and lost Ryan Suter to the open market.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

Poile vowed at that time not to let future contract negotiations draw out until the last moment.

“It was a clear wake-up call,” Poile said earlier this season. “I think if you look from that point forward in terms of transactions we’ve made and players that we didn’t want to lose, that number would be zero.

“There was something that needed to be done differently because that should never have happened. But the most important point is where we are today, so maybe that was a turning point for our franchise.”

The long-term strategy can make offseason life easier for Poile as well.

This summer, for instance, the Predators have just six players whose contracts are coming to an end – defenseman Alexei Emelin, goalie Juuse Saros, and forwards Hartnell, Mike Fisher, Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki.

Two of those players – Fisher and Hartnell – could be headed to retirement, while Emelin was considered more of a one-year stopgap addition to offset Ellis’ injury. The other three players – Hartman, Salomaki and Saros – are all restricted free agents, meaning the Predators could match any potential offers for the players.

Young and hungry

In addition to the long-term deals in place for many of the Preds’ core, what’s also striking about the group is its relative youth.

Three of the Preds’ leading scorers this season – Forsberg (64 points), Arvidsson (61) and Johansen (54 points) – are 25 years old or younger, the primes of their careers likely still ahead of them. On defense, the senior member of the top-four blueliners, Subban, is still only 28 years old.

Saros, the Preds’ goaltender of the future, is only 23.

Throw in the fact that one of the NHL’s most promising prospects, Eeli Tolvanen, 19, will play a more prominent role on Nashville’s roster next year and it’s easy to see why other players have been intrigued by the Preds’ potential.

“Yeah, I was so excited coming here because of that,” acknowledges Turris, 28, who arrived via trade from Ottawa during the regular season. “This group has so much potential, I’m really looking forward to being a part of it.”

That’s not to say next year’s Predators’ roster is guaranteed to look exactly the same.

Poile has shown himself to be an active trader in recent years, and if he perceives the Preds need to correct a potential weakness, he won’t hesitate to make another move.

But the bottom line is that the Predators have a good window of time to win a Stanley Cup with this current crew.

“You don’t know how many opportunities you have at not only the playoffs, but going deep in the playoffs,” Ellis adds. “So you have to take advantage of every one. But yeah, this is a special group in here. I think everyone is aware it could be here for a long time.”

Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.