When it came time for Erik Haula to test free agency last year, he entered the market as an interesting test case for the flat cap world. A 29-goal scorer in 2017-18, he had experienced two down years but was still arguably one of the top centers available. Like so many others, he felt the squeeze of an uncertain hockey landscape and ended up taking a one-year, $1.75M deal with the Nashville Predators, a significant pay cut from the $2.75M he earned each of the three previous seasons.
Now, as free agency approaches once again, Haula may not even test the market at all. Adam Vingan of The Athletic reports that the 30-year-old center is discussing a new contract with the Predators.
In 2020-21, Haula settled in to a depth role, averaging just over 12 minutes of even-strength ice time but contributing on both special teams. He scored nine goals and 21 points in 51 games. He also won 55% of his faceoffs and was a versatile enough middle-six option for the Predators. Re-signing with the team at a reasonable price would provide him with some security heading into another uncertain offseason, though the deal would likely have to wait a few days.
Saturday, a transaction freeze will be put in place after teams submit their protection lists for the upcoming expansion draft. Even with the Predators moving out Viktor Arvidsson, it still seems unlikely that they would want to protect Haula after signing him to a new deal given they currently have to go the eight-skater route in order to protect their top-four defensemen. There are always ways around those protection issues, but signing Haula early would only complicate things.
The veteran center knows all about expansion draft dealings. He was Vegas’ choice from the Minnesota Wild in 2017, signing a three-year deal with the Golden Knights on expansion day. The Wild lost not only Haula, but also Alex Tuch to make sure the Golden Knights didn’t select Matt Dumba, a deal that certainly worked out for Vegas. Haula scored 29 goals and 55 points in that inaugural expansion season, numbers that he hasn’t approached before or after. Though that production may never come again, it does add to his value knowing that he could step into a more offensive role in a pinch.
Nashville does have a good amount of cap space this summer, but with new deals owed to restricted free agents like Juuse Saros, Dante Fabbro and Eeli Tolvanen, it could disappear quickly. If the Preds bring back Haula, it’s because they believe he represents a better value than some of the other options that will become free agents later this month.