Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter seems resolute about exploring unrestricted free agency.
He knows he would attract massive offers from Stanley Cup contenders – most notably the Detroit Red Wings, a team with a major hole to fill in the wake of Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement.
But Predators general manager David Poile won’t turn the page on Suter. He is letting his other UFAs move toward the marketplace while holding budget space for Suter. Poile is also rebuffing trade offers for the negotiating rights to Suter.
“If he could make his decision today, that could help us a lot in terms of options with player acquisitions between now and the draft and free agency,” Poile told the Tennessean newspaper. “I’m not in control of that, he’s in control of it.”
The Nashville roster is in flux. Restricted free agent Alexander Radulov seems likely to return to Russia’s KHL after his unhappy reunion with the Predators. By dealing goaltender Anders Lindback to Tampa Bay, Poile has only Pekka Rinne under contract at that position.
Many Predators are unrestricted free agents, including career pest Jordin Tootoo and late-season rentals Paul Gaustad, Hall Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn. Restricted free agent Sergei Kostitsyn can't be happy with how his brother was made one of the fall guys for the playoff failure.
So Nashville currently has more than $38 million in projected salary cap space for next season. That gives Poile more than enough room to keep Suter and lock Shea Weber into a long-term deal, should that dynamic duo elect to commit to the Predators for the long haul.
Should Suter depart and Weber decline to extend his contract, though, Poile will be hard-pressed to keep the Predators in Stanley Cup contention. The free agent marketplace won’t offer significant help and Nashville is not brimming with breakout youngsters.
Gaining a couple of second-round picks for Lindback will help the rebuilding process slightly. Moving Radulov’s rights for draft picks or prospects could also help some.
But the future of this franchise will depend on whether it can retain Suter and Weber as defensive pillars for this checking-minded team.