Soon after the bell rings – figuratively speaking, of course – to signify the start of the National Hockey League’s free agency period, agents for a number of players can expect their phone to ring – literally – courtesy of Nashville Predators’ general manager David Poile.
Following weeks of unsuccessful attempts to re-sign any of the Predators’ players eligible for free agency, Poile said he and his staff will waste no time trying to secure talent from outside the organization.
The free agency period officially begins at 11 a.m. (CDT).
“We’re all organized,” Poile said. “There’s a number of agents who we want to touch base with about a variety of different players on a variety of different levels. We’ll let them know we’re interested in their player, and if it’s appropriate we could make an offer at that point.
“You don’t know whether they’re prepared to do business right away or if they want to field a lot of different calls or they’re waiting to hear from specific teams. We’ll make all of the calls we want to make within the first hour.”
Poile said that in the final hours before the start of free agency, he and his staff had focused their efforts on trying to re-sign forwards Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward. Defenseman Greg Zanon and forward Vernon Fiddler had become lesser priorities.
All four, however, had some degree of discussions with the Predators on Tuesday.
“We’ve touched base with everybody,” Poile said. “… We’re still having conversations ... to see if we can get something done. It’s our desire to sign Sullivan and Joel Ward. I don’t think it’s going to happen with Fidder or Greg Zanon or any of the other guys right now.”
Based on what has taken place around the league in the last few days, it seems likely that contract length is the most significant issue between Nashville and its players scheduled for free agency.
The vast majority of established veterans who re-signed with their clubs in the last two days did so on one-year deals, including Jere Lehtinen with Dallas, Rob Blake with San Jose and Bill Guerin with Pittsburgh. Nearly two weeks ago, Keith Tkachuk agreed to a one-year pact to remain in St. Louis and as far back April 7, Doug Weight came to terms on a one-year contract with the New York Islanders.
“Term is problematic for a lot of us going forward with a lot of the commitments we have and the added pressure that the (salary) cap could go down next year,” Poile said. “You have to be careful, not only this year but you have to be careful what you do with the future.”
He added that the uncertainty regarding future salary caps and the effect it has had on negotiations this year has not changed the fact that there never are any guarantees when it comes to free agency.
“It comes with the territory,” Poile said. “It’s a very interesting day – there could be some big winners, there could be some big losers. Sometimes you can’t tell the winners from the losers until the season is well underway.”