When you’re trying to run a playoff team on a limited budget, there probably aren’t many off-seasons that should be categorized as “easy.” Even so, this has been an especially tough one for Nashville Predators GM David Poile.
Three big headaches come to mind. While it didn’t really have disastrous consequences, the Predators failed to file their qualifying offers for seven players in a satisfactory way, creating a situation that was far more difficult than it had to be. The team’s biggest problem of the off-season was “solved” in a rather stomach-churning way, as Shea Weber received a hefty salary of $7.5 million while only guaranteeing one year of his services after the team failed to avoid arbitration.
The third headache was another self-inflicted wound, as the Predators made a salary-dumping trade that sent concussed center Matthew Lombardi and solid young offensive defenseman Cody Franson to Toronto for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. To call that trade one-sided in favor of the Maple Leafs is an understatement.
That disparity was made much clearer when the Predators put Lebda on unconditional waivers, with plenty of speculation regarding whether or not they could buyout the oft-criticized defenseman. It’s not totally clear if the Predators can do that (I’m leaning toward “No” but we shall see), but one thing is clear: no other NHL teams are interested in taking that problem off Nashville’s hands. Lebda reportedly cleared waivers today.
Assuming that a buyout isn’t an option, Lebda will cost the Predators $1.45 million next season whether he plays in the NHL or AHL because of his one-way contract. The only difference is that his $1.45 million cap hit won’t register if he’s “buried” in the minors, but that really isn’t much of a benefit for a team that probably won’t exceed the $48.3 million cap floor by much next season.
It’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for Lebda, who was kicked around for his struggles in Toronto and clearly isn’t wanted by Nashville. With Lebda out of the picture, the Predators will be forced to turn to a very green group of young defenseman in depth roles, as Joe discussed on Saturday.
The Predators might be wise to bring in a veteran unrestricted free agent to at least give the team a bit of a safety net if their young defenseman wobble. Looking at CapGeek’s list, the pickings are pretty slim but perhaps they could convince someone like Paul Mara, Karlis Skrastins or even Scott Hannan to eat up minutes if the price is right.
If any coach can make it work though, it’s Barry Trotz. Still, the Predators are making a pretty big gamble during a season in which they need to convince their “Big 3” of Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne to stick around. The last couple months probably haven’t helped matters a whole lot.