Typically in a trade, you have to give up something to get something.
The Nashville Predators actually had to give up something to give up something when they dealt with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Nashville shipped defenseman Cody Franson and center Matthew Lombardi in exchange for defenseman Brett Lebda and forward prospect Robert Slaney. The deal also called for one of the teams to get the other’s fourth-round pick in 2013 based on the number of games Lombardi plays the next two seasons.
The Predators feel they can afford to wait and see whether Lombardi does enough to cost them a draft pick. They cannot, however, deal with the uncertainty of his health first-hand (he missed 80 games last season with a concussion), particularly at a time when their most proven players are lining up for new contracts of their own.
In short, the inclusion of Franson, a promising defenseman drafted and developed by Nashville was necessary in order to move Lombardi.
“That’s not what we like to do, no question about that,” General Manager David Poile said. “[Franson] was a good young player for us with a really good upside. Toronto certainly gets the benefit of that.
“In a nutshell, what this deal does is gives us certainty for the coming season. It allows us to do what our goal is. It allows us to build around our top players — [Shea] Weber, [Ryan] Suter and Pekka Rinne — and then to find the necessary other ingredients so we then can compete for a Stanley Cup.”
The departure of Lombardi freed up $7 million — $3.5 million each of the next two seasons.
It was the largest subtraction among a series of them in the opening days of the new contract year. When the Predators allowed free agents Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward and Marcel Goc to sign elsewhere, they reduced the current team payroll by more than $6 million. They also had no intention to re-sign defenseman Shane O’Brien, currently a free agent who made $1.6 million in 2010-11. Plus they bought out J-P Dumont at a savings of nearly $2.7 million.
All of that was in direct contrast to a year earlier when Nashville signed Lombardi to a three-year, $10.5 million deal on the second day of free agency. He sustained a concussion in the second game of the season, never returned to the lineup and still has not been cleared to resume full activity.
“Unfortunately, the thing with Matthew Lombardi — his concussion — it was terrible for him. It was terrible for us,” Poile said. “It was a paralyzing situation for us in terms of making any moves. The uncertainty of whether he was going to come back and play for us at any time last year and now as we sit here in July again the uncertainty of whether he’s going to come back this year or next year.
“From a manager’s standpoint, it didn’t allow me to move forward. It didn’t allow me to make any plans.”
Following the trade with Toronto (Lebda has one year remaining on a deal that pays him $1.45 million this season) and the free agent addition of forward Niclas Bergfors (one year, $575,000), Nashville has the least amount of money committed for 2011-12 among all 30 NHL teams.
With a payroll of slightly more than $35 million, it sits roughly $29 million below the salary cap and almost $14 million below the league minimum. That at a time when negotiations continue with Weber, a first-team NHL All-Star and Norris Trophy runner-up last season. Plus, Suter and Rinne each have one year remaining on their current deals and are in line for unrestricted free agency and both likely would command a huge salary if they get on the market.
“I actually feel that we’re in a really good position now with all the things that have taken place the last few days,” Poile said. “My vision is the opportunity with the core guys of Suter, Weber, Pekka Rinne and the other guys is that we have a window here of several years to build a contending team — a team that’s going to compete for the Cup.”