David Poile does not intend to “blow up” the Nashville Predators’ roster in the wake of the franchise’s fifth first-round playoff loss in as many tries. In fact, he largely intends to stand pat.
“We’ve built the team into a competitive team and really think we’re close to taking the next step, which obviously is to win playoff rounds,” Poile, the Predators’ general manager, said. “… I’m not happy that we haven’t won a playoff round. I thought it was going to happen this year.”
Of the 24 players on the roster for the Western Conference quarterfinal series with Chicago, which ended with a 5-3 defeat Monday, 17 already are under contract for next season or beyond. The latest to join that group is tough guy forward Wade Belak, who was signed to a one-year, $575,000 contract (a slight decrease from the $650,000 he made this season) on Thursday.
Four more are scheduled to be restricted free agents (Patric Hornqvist, Dustin Boyd, Cody Franson and Denis Grebeshkov), which means the team has the opportunity to retain their rights.
Only three – defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Francis Bouillon and goalie Dan Ellis – are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, and of that group Ellis is the only one, at the moment, who definitely will not be back.
“He feels that based on the position, as he sees opportunities around the NHL, that there’s a good chance from him to become a No. 1 somewhere,” Poile said. “If I was him, I would say exactly the same thing.”
Ellis had 50 wins in 110 appearances for the Predators over the past three seasons. He played all six games of the 2007-08 playoff series against Detroit but watched all six against Chicago this season. Prior to coming to Nashville, he made one NHL appearance in four professional seasons as a part of the Dallas Stars’ organization.
His regular-season appearances declined every season with Nashville – from 44 in 2007-08 to 35 in 2008-09 and 31 this season as Pekka Rinne assumed the role of No.1. Rinne agreed in late February to a contract for the next two seasons.
“I came in originally to be a No. 3 guy and a starter in Milwaukee, and that year I ended up being the starter for this organization,” Ellis said. “Things have taken a turn since then, and I’ve had a lot of ups and downs but I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a goaltender.
“I feel like my best years are ahead of me. … I do know I will have a bright future in the National Hockey League, wherever it is.”
Poile repeatedly has said he hopes to bring back Hamhuis, the Predators’ first-round draft pick (12th overall) in 2000. Coach Barry Trotz consistently has echoed that sentiment.
The 27-year-old has missed just nine games in six NHL seasons and is the only player to appear in all 28 of Nashville’s all-time playoff contests. He has 32 goals, 129 assists and 375 penalty minutes in 483 career contests.
Conventional wisdom suggests that, because of his age and experience, his market value never will be higher and, therefore, might exceed what the Predators potentially can offer. The two sides had occasional discussions regarding an extension throughout the season but agreed in February to cease all negotiations until the offseason.
Nashville still has his rights – and the opportunity to strike a new deal – until July 1.
“I’m at that point in my career where there are lots of options,” Hamhuis said. “I don’t want to close the doors on anything. I want to take a look … really think it through and make the right decision.”
As a team the Predators already have decided the best thing is to try again with many of the same players.
“We’ve gotten to the playoffs five times and (had) sort of the same result,” Trotz said. “I understand that’s frustrating, but I’m telling you we’ve made it five times and it’s hard to make the playoffs.
“We will get it to the next level. We’re getting closer. It could have happened this year. We had the opportunity. We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
If the same thing happens next season, many of those same people once again will be blaming themselves.
• Belak played just 39 games this season, his fewest since 2003-04, when he appeared in 34 contests with Toronto. However, this was the first time since 2006-07 he was not traded in mid-season.
“He’s a good player for us and also one of the tougher guys in the league,” Poile said. “He also seems to be a very good veteran player and mentor in the locker room for our younger guys.”
• Four Predators have confirmed their participation in next month’s IIHF World Championships.
Center Marcel Goc and defenseman Alexander Sulzer will play for Germany, where the event will take place. Grebeshkov will play for Russia and Rinne will play for Finland.
Defense prospect Robert Dietrich has been offered the opportunity to tryout with Kazakhstan.
• Two of Nashville’s 2009 draft picks, defenseman Ryan Ellis (first round) and right wing Taylor Beck (third round) were named second-team All-Stars in the Ontario Hockey League.
Ellis was a first-team selection the previous season.