Why bringing back Scott Hartnell was a great move for the Predators

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Of the many reunions that took place on the first day of free agency the Nashville Predators’ move to bring back Scott Hartnell on a one-year, $1 million contract might have been the best one.

It also might have been one of the better free agent signings — reunion or not — any team made on the day. Or will make this entire summer.

The Predators needed to make some moves to address their forward lines after losing James Neal in the expansion draft and not knowing for sure whether or not they will get Mike Fisher back.

To this point they have been unable to swing a deal for an impact player — like Colorado Avalanche star Matt Duchene — but they did add Nick Bonino and Hartnell into the mix as they look to make another run at the Stanley Cup in 2017-18. But while Bonino’s contract will get most of the attention because of his role on a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner, as well as the years and dollar figures his contract carries, Hartnell’s small one-year deal might end up being the best value out of the two.

Even though Hartnell’s overall role and production declined rapidly this past season in Columbus and resulted in the remainder of his contract being bought out this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent, he should still provide plenty of value to the Predators.

The key to Hartnell’s value is that he still looks like a pretty outstanding player at 5-on-5.

Even though he logged an average of just 10 minutes of even-strength ice-time per game, he still managed to record 34 points during those minutes, the fifth most on the Blue Jackets. That total would have been fourth among all Predators forwards this past season, and more than outgoing forwards Neal and Colin Wilson.

It gets even better when you drill it down to a per-minute basis where his 2.42 points per 60 minutes of even-strength play was the eighth highest total in the entire league. 

He did all of that while still posting strong possession numbers, including a 52.4 percent Corsi that was fourth best on the Blue Jackets.

A lot of his overall decline in production this past season seemed to have more to do with a change in his role (less ice time overall, and especially less power play time) than a sharp decline in ability. At 35 he is obviously not going to be the player he was earlier in his career when he was an occasional 30-35 goal scorer, but given his cage-rattling style of play and even-strength production he should still have plenty to offer a Stanley Cup contender.

Especially when it is only going to cost them $1 million against the cap.