Predators players never wavered despite questions over qualifying offers

Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 11:13pm

The reality is that there was little chance the Nashville Predators would wind up without them.

It is tough to imagine, though, what the Predators would have done over the opening days of training camp without a number of players whose rights were called into question by the NHL Players Association.

Chris Mueller and Sergei Kostitsyn each had three points, and Matt Haslichuk added two as Nashville negotiated three preseason contests in two days — with two victories and one defeat.

Such early production made it seem as if the franchise did the right thing when it took the necessary steps to retain their rights rather than face an arbitration process.

Late in June the NHLPA filed a grievance against the Predators in connection to qualifying offers made to seven players. Also involved were Nick Spaling and Cal O’Reilly as well as European prospects Andreas Thuresson and Linus Klasen.

Had the process gone to arbitration as scheduled, there was the possibility that the players could have been declared free agents. Nashville simply signed them all to new contracts before it ever got that far.

“I think it got a little more blown up than it should have,” Spaling said. “I didn’t think it was a big issue really at all. Now, looking back, I try not to think about any of that.

“It was just something that happened and sounded a lot bigger than it was.”

General manager David Poile vowed that he eventually would talk at length about the nature of the dispute but backed off that stance — at the urging of league officials — once it was resolved without the hearing.

The official position is that it never happened. Unofficially, the players involved feel pretty much the same way.

“That’s why we have agents and the NHLPA — they all deal with that stuff,” O’Reilly said. “I was just training and getting ready for the next year. It was no issue. I’m glad to be back.”

Mueller, who had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Washington, signed a two-year contract with the standard raise of 10 percent. Spaling, Halischuk and O’Reilly all ended up with one-way contracts, also with reasonable salary increases.

Kostitsyn was the big winner with a one-year, $2.5 million contract. That had more to do with the fact that he scored a team-high 25 goals last season than with any perceived power from the uncertainty of his contract situation.

He racked up assists on the first three Predators’ goals of the preseason, all in a 5-3 victory over Florida.

“It doesn’t hurt his confidence,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It was early, and Sergei should be a top player in that group. You sort of take the level of competition as well. There was a little younger group [in that game].”

And the Predators have the entire group of players they envisioned when they made their decisions on qualifying offers, regardless of whether or not those offers were made in the proper and timely manner.

“I don’t think it was a big issue,” Halischuk said. “Obviously, I’m so exited to be here and I wanted to come earn my slot.

“There was never a thought in my mind about anything else. So I was happy to re-sign.”