The argument could be made that Steve Sullivan actually owes the Nashville Predators two years. After all, the forward did not play a game between Feb. 22, 2007 and Jan. 10, 2009 because of a debilitating back injury, which for a time looked career-threatening.
Still, no one ever asked him to play for free. In fact, for most of the off-season no one ever asked him what he thought he was worth in dollars and cents — period.
It simply took a while for he and Predators’ general manager David Poile to agree that a two-year contract was acceptable to both, which they finally did on Tuesday. After that, it wasn’t long before the sides agreed on money and Wednesday afternoon — hours into the National Hockey League’s free agency period — Sullivan was off the market and back on the Nashville roster with a deal that will pay him $3.75 million each of the next two seasons.
“There was a lot of miscommunication, but at the end of the day we never got to numbers,” Sullivan said. “We were hung up on length. …I didn’t know what to expect coming into (Wednesday). I didn’t know what the market was going to bear for me.”
Sullivan was one of two players who re-signed with the franchise after a brief time in free agency. Forward Joel Ward also agreed to rejoin the Predators with a two-year deal, in his case one which will pay him $1.5 million per season. Sullivan’s annual salary improved $550,000 while Ward’s tripled from the $500,000 he made in his first full NHL season.
In other developments Wednesday:
• Three former Nashville players signed with other franchises.
• The Predators determined that forward Alexander Radulov will not rejoin the team in 2009-10.
• Poile said he hopes to find a veteran, free agent defenseman in the coming days.
Across the league, singings took place at a rapid pace following the 11 a.m. (CDT) start of free agency.
Poile, assistant general manager Paul Fenton and director of hockey operations Mike Santos, each had a list of 10 agents they contacted within the first hour. Ultimately, though, the Predators’ only deals of the day were with the two players they brought back.
“Joel Ward said, ‘(I) like Nashville, (I) thank Nashville for giving (me) a chance, (I) want to be back in Nashville but (I) want to see what the market bears,’” Poile said. “That’s what (he and his agent) did and they were true to their word, they came back to us.
“With Sullivan, we got together (Tuesday) on the two-year part, which was significant. Then (Wednesday) was about the dollars. He got out there with his agent, they got some offers and at the end of the day I think he wanted to come back to Nashville. That’s why he signed here.”
Sullivan has averaged virtually a point per game — 190 points in 191 appearances — since he joined the Predators during the 2003-04 season. When he returned from the injury this past season he had 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 41 games, but 27 (11 goals, 16 assists) in the final 25 contests.
Nashville was 22-14-5 in 2008-09 with him in the lineup and 18-20-3 without him.
“The return of Steve Sullivan …was the biggest boost we had gotten in the last couple of years since he had been out,” Poile said. “If he continues to be 100 percent as he was near the end of the year – and there’s no reason he shouldn’t — and gets back to the offensive form that we’ve all seen and loved during his time with the Predators it’s going to be a big boost and give us a much better chance to make the playoffs this year.”
Sullivan said the back has not been an issue since the end of the season. He even noted that he has played golf on occasion.
He acknowledged, though, that the injury likely affected his perceived value, from the Predators and from others.
“I think I’m a pretty unique case of being out for a long time and being able to come back and be quite healthy,” Sullivan said. “I thought I was pretty close to being my old self when I got back. It was tough to see where teams would gauge me.
“I think there is a risk with signing me after being out that long. I think it was the right decision for the club and for myself just to get a fair assessment of where I stood (on the market).”
It’s not as if he had gotten any kind of assessment previously.