On Friday, Ryan Suter said that he would not sign a new contract before the February 27 trade deadline, instead opting to wait until after the season is over. Many experts (staring at you, ESPN) took this to mean that he would not be staying with Nashville after this season, or that he would at least test the waters of free agency. Thus, Nashville would be wise to shop Suter around to try to get something in return for him, right?
Suter was upset to see how his comments were handled by the media, and he directly contacted ESPN to clarify his statement. He assured them that he only wants to wait until the end of the season so that it won't be looming over the team this season. He wants the team to focus on winning this season, and then he will work out the contract stuff in the offseason.
That's great for him, but for Predators fans? Not so much.
Those who have been following Suter throughout his stint with the Preds know that he is, perhaps, talking out of both sides of his mouth. That is, he has said in the past that he enjoys playing in Nashville for this organization and for the group of guys he is with now. But he wants to ensure that they are committed to winning.
I don't blame him for wanting that commitment, and wanting to see that commitment. The Predators have a long history of being something of a farm team for other teams in the league; Poille drafts the right players, Trotz works to teach them the fundamentals and then, once they become talented players, they leave for greener pastures.
But as far as this season is concerned, the Predators are three points out of first place in the Western Conference. They're good. And they're coming off the most successful season in franchise history last year.
By pushing the contract negotiations to the offseason, he may divert attention away from the situation and allow the team to focus on winning games (ironically, though, it's all over the hockey media right now, simply because of a few comments he made). However, he really puts the organization in a rough spot. Are the Predators supposed to just wait it out and see if he decides to re-sign? Or do they start shopping him to see what they may be able to get in return, just to do damage control?
If the Predators decide to trade Suter, odds are they aren't going to get nearly equal value in return. The other team would be essentially trading for a small rental, because he is pushing contract negotiations off. Some are speculating that he clarified his comments because he doesn't want to be traded. Nashville may not be where he wants to stay forever, but he at least wants to finish the season here. If this is true, that greatly diminishes his trade value, because he would be traded against his will, and then the new team would be standing and smiling with a shiny new contract.
So perhaps the best course of action for the Predators right now is to test the trade market, but not for Suter. No, instead see what is out there to beef up the team, and to show Suter that, with the new ownership, this Nashville Predators team is committed to winning. There are still weaknesses that must be addressed on the team. How about, instead of shopping Suter around, Nasvhille sees if it can beef up its scoring? Instead of going all-out and assuming that Suter will stay and not dangling him out on the trade market, or assuming that he will leave and trying to find the best offer for him, why not believe him when he says that he enjoys playing for the team, and that he would stick around if the organization proved that it was committed to winning? Go all out in making the team better, and that will likely do more convincing that anything else could.
Obviously this is all easier said than done, and I do not envy any GM, let alone one who is in this volatile of a situation. The Predators have a very good team, and they have the potential to be good for a long time, but they have several keys. They must hold on to Shea Weber. They must hold on to Pekka Rinne. And they must hold on to Ryan Suter.
Please, Ryan, don't go.