Steve Sullivan could become the first Nashville Predators’ player to win one of the National Hockey League’s major awards. If he does, it could happen in one of his last days with the team.
Sullivan left Tuesday for Las Vegas, where the NHL Awards Banquet will take place Thursday (6:30 p.m., Versus). He earned an invitation to the event in April when he was named one of three finalists for the Masterton Trophy, which recognizes perseverance and dedication to the game.
On Monday, Predators’ general manager David Poile and Sullivan’s agent, Steve Bartlett, talked about the possibility that Sullivan might re-sign with Nashville before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Nothing was resolved, and the two likely will not talk again until after next week’s NHL draft.
“It’s an ongoing negotiation,” Poile said.
The contract discussions and Sullivan’s presence at the awards banquet are not mutually exclusive occurrences.
The 34-year-old (he’ll be 35 less than a week into the free agency period) was recognized for the fact that he returned to action in January after having missed nearly two full years due to a back injury.
It was 17 games before he scored his first goal but he then had 27 points in his final 25 appearances, including one goal and two assists in the regular-season finale. He appeared in each of the Predators’ final 41 contests.
The combination of his age and uncertainty about the durability of his back generate legitimate questions about Sullivan’s long-term reliability and productivity.
Plus, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement has created free agency for players in their 20s. As a result, many of the biggest and longest contracts in recent years have gone to such players. Nashville, for example, has signed 28-year-old David Legwand through 2014 and 27-year-old Martin Erat through 2015.
Sullivan, who never has been an unrestricted free agent, likely expects to cash in on the fact that he has averaged virtually a point per game (190 points in 191 appearances) since he joined the Predators with a long-term, high-paying deal of his own.
“There’s a lot to think about,” Sullivan conceded.
There’s less to consider when it comes to the Masterton. It’s either Sullivan, Florida forward Richard Zednik or Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios.
Zednik lost five pints of blood and required emergency surgery when he had an artery accidentally sliced by a teammates’ skate during a game in the 2007-08 season. In 2008-09 Chelios became of only three players in league history to play at least 25 seasons.
“It’s a long time to have to be out – two years – and to have to come back and play in the best league in the world … I had a lot of support from my family – my wife, my kids and my parents and brother,” Sullivan said when he was named a finalist. “I’ve had to battle through a lot of things and a lot of adversity and wasn’t given too much hope a lot of times in my hockey career.”
When it comes to the contract, both sides have expressed measured optimism, at least publicly. Neither has been able (or willing) to predict the outcome, though.
Poile, on the other hand, believes he knows what will happen Thursday night.
“(Sullivan’s) comeback is a very good story,” Poile said. “I’m not a gambler, but if I was I would wager that he will the (Masterton) award.”
That’s not to say he’s willing to gamble on Sullivan long-term.