When the Nashville Predators signed free agent center Matthew Lombardi back in July, message boards and blogs widely praised the acquisition because it effectively saved the franchise $1 million in salary.
More accurately, the Predators recouped $1 million.
Lombardi, who will earn $3.5 million this season, filled the roster spot opened when Jason Arnott was traded to the New Jersey Devils a short time earlier. Arnott was scheduled to make $4.5 million.
That drop was the exception to the majority of roster moves since the start of the calendar year, which pushed the overall cost in player salaries toward $50 million for the season (Nashville opens Oct. 9 at home against Anaheim).
With a handful of final roster decisions that will affect the final number still unmade, the team was set to start the season with slightly more than $48 million in salaries. And with Shea Weber’s contract set to expire after this season, the $50 million threshold will be at hand in the not too distant future.
It’s a far cry from the earliest days of the franchise, which paid about that much to players in its first three seasons combined. In fact, the three highest-paid Predators (Weber, Martin Erat and David Legwand) will make more in 2010-11 than the entire inaugural Predators’ roster in 1998-99.
“In meetings with the owners, this is what we agreed upon,” General Manager David Poile said. “It’s something we’re all comfortable with.”
Comfortable, but a little cramped.
Nashville remains in the bottom half of the league’s salary cap window, which for this season allows a maximum of $59.4 million with a floor of $43.4 million. That, along with other factors (in the bottom half in league revenues, and in a market with 2.5 million or fewer TV households), allows the franchise to benefit from the NHL’s revenue sharing plan, which is considered essential for its annual operations.
The franchise must stay below the mid-point of that cap window ($51.4 million) to be eligible for the full benefits of revenue sharing, which means any blockbuster deals at the trade deadline are unlikely.
The Predators got here with a series of extensions and new deals with a number of players on last season’s roster.
In the six months before the end of the contract year, they signed six players to contract extensions and last month finally agreed to a new deal with Patric Hornqvist, the team’s top goal scorer last season. Together, those deals generated an increase of $6.1 million in salaries.
Six of those players got raises, the most significant being Hornqvist’s. The 23-year-old forward more than quadrupled his 2009-10 salary of $575,000 to $3 million for the coming season.
Not far behind was goalie Pekka Rinne, who agreed to a two-year extension on Feb. 24. His salary jumped from $725,000 last season to $2.8 million for 2010-11 with a scheduled jump to $4 million the following season.
More than half the players on the roster will earn salaries in excess of $1 million this season.
Even with the $1 million saved in swapping Arnott for Lombardi, the increased investment in players already within the organization is significant and has the Predators poised to surpass a notable salary landmark.