It won’t take long for Francis Bouillon to exceed the length of his first stay with the Nashville Predators. It might take a little while, though, for him to get in the lineup.
The 33-year-old defensemen agreed in principle on a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Predators on Tuesday. However, he signed a professional tryout agreement, which gave him and the team time to evaluate any lingering effects from a groin injury that caused him to miss the final two months of the 2008-09 regular season as well as the playoffs.
The contract will be executed only when he is considered to be at full health and ready to play.
“We have to take our time just to see I’m going to be 100 percent,” Bouillon said. “We’re going to talk every day to see how it’s going. … We are going slowly in the process and hopefully I’m going to get well.”
Bouillon passed a physical Tuesday morning and then took part in a conditioning skate with strength coach Dave Good while the majority of the team went through a full workout nearby.
He called the session a good first step but stopped short of guaranteeing that he’ll make a full recovery. He also noted, after all, that he has experienced continued discomfort in the groin during personal workouts throughout the offseason.
“You’re never 100 percent sure,” he said. “Hopefully I’m going to be ready. It could be a short process. It could be a long process too, but hopefully it will be the shortest one.”
The only thing that’s certain right now is that he will not be in the lineup for Nashville’s preseason game Wednesday at Atlanta. Both he and coach Barry Trotz said the hope is for Bouillon to play one of the final two preseason contests (Saturday and Sunday) but that any decision in that regard won’t be made until later in the week.
“We’ll do what’s right,” Trotz said. “I’m looking over 82 games. I’m not looking at an exhibition game on the weekend. I’m looking at the whole season, making sure he can go the whole season.”
Before being limited to 54 games in 2008-09, Bouillon averaged 69 appearances over his previous four NHL seasons. Three times in a career that dates back to 1999-00, he played more than 70 contests in a single campaign.
All but four of his 485 NHL games were as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Those other four came in 2002-03 with Nashville, which claimed him off waivers on Oct. 4, 2002 and three weeks later put him back on waivers with the idea of sending him to Milwaukee. Instead, Montreal reclaimed him and held on to him through the end of last season.
“When I called him on the phone after we made the acquisition I said, ‘Francis, this is David Poile. It’s going to be better this time around,’” Poile said. “I think, if this works out, this could be an excellent deal for us. I think at his age, the inexperience of our defense, the youthfulness of our defense, I think he could come in and play a tremendous role on the ice and off the ice.”
Assuming he returns to health, Bouillon will take one of the spots on defense that was available to a group of young defensemen, including Cody Franson, Teemu Laakso, Alexander Sulzer, Jonathan Blum and Nolan Yonkman. With Bouillon, the Predators will have five experienced blue liners and one remaining spot.
Poile said a likely scenario is for the sixth spot to be filled on a rotating basis between the others who can be rotated between Nashville and Milwaukee.
“I’m not down on anybody,” Poile said. “What they lack is experience. … If we can put them in a position to succeed, then we’ve done our job.
“I think that if Bouillon can play for us and is ready to go, I think we’ll actually have enhanced everybody’s opportunities to be more successful. That’s my view for the long run.”