Looking back, general manager David Poile did a phenomenal job last offseason in trying to reform the team and make it back to the playoffs. To do so, he traded away Nashville legend David Legwand (at trade deadline) for prospect Calle Jarnkrok and draft picks. At the end of the season, he then fired Barry Trotz and brought in Peter Laviolette. Poile continued by dealing Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling for veteran James Neal. Possibly his best move was by gambling on a recovering Mike Ribeiro, a move that paid dividends for the team throughout the season.
After failing to come back in their series in the playoffs, Poile now has a large task in attempting to not just make it back to the playoffs, but hold onto first place during the season and make a run a the Stanley Cup.
The Predators currently have six players set to become unrestricted free agents: Matt Cullen, Mike Fisher, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Santorelli, Cody Franson, and Anton Volchenkov.
Of these six, I see three returning to the lineup in a Predators uniform next season. Ribeiro was second on the team in points and first in assists (62 points, 47 assists). He was signed to a one-year deal to see how it would work out, and it was clearly a success. Ribeiro has been able to return to his old form and wants to stay in Nashville, having even moved his family there before the first contract was signed. There is no doubt he will be back.
Poile will also most likely resign Fisher. Fisher put up strong numbers (19-20-39) in 59 games, putting himself in the top ten in points on the team. Fisher is currently 34 and the wear and tear of the years showed a bit this season, but his performance will likely keep him here.
Franson performed rather disappointingly during the regular season after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs. His scored dropped dramatically and his defense was sketchy at best. However, Nashville went out of their way to bolster their blue line for the playoffs. With so many young players, I do not believe Poile would have made a move for a rental player unless he felt that they would stay. That being said, I would bet that Franson stays and tries to prove himself.
Cullen would be more a difficult decision. He performed well throughout the season, scoring 25 points in 62 games, but is really not the direction the Predators will be looking to go. He is now 38 years old and susceptible to injury more easily as seen last season. The Preds will be looking toward their youth to fill in the role and potentially improve upon that.
Santorelli was certainly the most disappointing of the deadline deal with the Maple Leafs. He performed equally as poorly to Franson during the rest of the season and only scored one goal in the playoffs. Nashville will be able to find better in the market or draft a replacement for him.
Volchenkov was not awful defensively for the Predators, but did not properly fill the role the team was looking for on the blue line. He was limited to 46 games, and at age 33, Nashville will move on and look elsewhere.
Poile has already begun a strong offseason by signing top KHL scorer Steve Moses. Moses is a small forward that is incredibly quick and has a knack for finding the back of the net.
Nashville still needs a top defensive defenseman, one that is strong at staying home and protecting the goalie and the net. However, looking at their current situation, that player may have to come on a smaller budget. A player like Johnny Oduya or Jeff Petry may be a perfect fit in a Nashville jersey.