The Nashville Predators’ aim in free agency is obvious. They need to get a forward … or two or three.
They will be short at least one target, though, when the signing period opens Friday.
Reports early Thursday said that Nashville was one of three teams on the short list of veteran forward Daniel Briere, who became available when the Philadelphia Flyers bought him out of the final two years of his contract. By late afternoon, though, reports said that the 35-year-old had agreed to terms with the Montreal Canadiens and intended to sign Friday.
“We’ve got some openings on our forward situation,” Predators general manager David Poile said earlier this week. “That’s what’s going to be our primary goal when we get to [Friday] as to what we can do to fill in one or two holes.”
The Predators traded Martin Erat, a fixture on their top two lines for years, late last season. Sergei Kostitsyn, the team’s leading goal scorer in 2010-11, seems headed for the Kontinental Hockey League even though he has one year remaining on his current contract. Matt Halischuk was not offered the qualifying offer this week necessary for Nashville to retain his rights, which makes him an unrestricted free agent, and Brandon Yip is a free agent who will not get an offer from Nashville.
There are prospects who spent some time in the NHL and could fill a spot or two, Among that group are Taylor Beck, Filip Forsberg, Daniel Bang and Kevin Henderson.
However, Poile would like to add some veteran presence, not to mention proven scoring to a lineup that had the fewest goals of any Western Conference team in 2012-13.
“We’ll try to get the best forward that we can sign,” Poile said. “There will be certain characteristics that we’ll be looking for and we’ll try to get the best one at this position.”
Actually, it could be at any one of the three forward spots.
With players like Nick Spaling, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson, all of whom can play center or wing, Nashville has the flexibility to accommodate virtually anyone up front.
However, with nearly $15 million of salary cap space (approximately 23.1 percent of the $64.3 million limit, to be exact) devoted to two players, defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne, there are limits to how much the team can spend.
“It’s a combination of, Is it the right guy? How much do you want to spend exactly? How many years?” Poile said. “There’s going to be different situations. … We’re just going to have to look at the whole situation.
“… Trading a defenseman might be a way to get a forward too.”
In addition to Briere, Nashville had interest in Vincent Lecavalier, another veteran whose contract was bought out. Lecavalier told Predators officials he wanted to play on the east coast and soon after agreed to terms with Philadelphia.
So the number of possibilities might be a little smaller, but Nashville’s approach has not changed.
“We’re prepared with each player we want to talk to in terms of why we think there’s a fit, what our plan would be for the player and things we would do contractually,” Poile said. “So we’re all set.
“It usually goes pretty fast. You have to get in there and get across to the player and the agent what you want to do and why you have a fit for them and a plan and all that.”