UFA Options is a continuing series that gives a brief run-down of the unrestricted free agent market this summer, team-by-team. Our next team for consideration is the Nashville Predators.
David Poile’s situation is similar to Bob Gainey’s in that he has a lot of NHL players eligible for free agency this summer. His situation is dissimilar in that, by and large, they’re depth rather than star players.
That said, with eight regulars entering unrestricted free agency, the Predators could look very different next season.
After missing a good portion of 2006-07 and all of 2007-08, diminutive forward Steve Sullivan attempted a comeback last season. It was largely successful; he recorded 11 goals and 32 points in 41 games.
Sullivan was primarily used in a relatively sheltered offensive role; he did see second-level opposition but he got a lot of starts in the offensive zone. I imagine that he’ll return to Nashville but according to reports that’s by no means certain, and he could bring some offensive depth and versatility to any team that doesn’t mind his size.
Radek Bonk brings everything any team could want from its third-line centre except for a hitting game. He’s got good size (6’3”, 210lbs), is very smart positionally and a good skater, and he has a bit of a scoring touch (although this year he was killed by the percentages offensively).
He’s one of the better faceoff men in the NHL (59.9% on faceoffs last season) and he’s used to starting a ton of draws in his own end and playing against top opponents.
The rather unknown Fiddler is a similar player to Bonk, although he plays with more of an edge and probably isn’t quite as polished or talented as Bonk. Like the former, he’s an excellent faceoff man (54.1% last season) and a defensive stalwart. He could play on the third line, but he’s an even better fit for a 4th line role. He isn’t expensive and can easily slide on to the 3rd line if injuries strike.
I never would have bet on Scott Nichol to last in the NHL as long as he has; not only is he tiny by the standards of pro hockey (5’8”, 170lbs) but he plays an aggressive style that leaves him prone to injuries. He’s a good faceoff man (54.6% last season) and relishes the fourth line energy role. A very fun player to watch.
I have to confess that I haven’t seen much of Joel Ward. He played four years of OHL hockey before going to school at the University of Prince Edward Island, and after four years there he entered the Minnesota Wild farm system as a shutdown guy. He was an offensive revelation this season in the NHL; after never topping 45 points in three AHL seasons he scored 35 as an NHL rookie.
He’s 28 years old, stands 6’2” and weighs 205lbs and quietly played tough opposition all season long. It’s difficult to say at this point if he was a complimentary player or not (for those of you who have seen him more than me, please chime in below) but his defensive numbers are exceptional, and I have to admit that I’m intrigued.
Greg De Vries, who used to be a half decent defenseman, had a very poor season this last year. He played low-level opposition, didn’t get tossed out for a brutal number of defensive draws, and he’s never really played a physical game. He scored 35 points in 2005-06; he recorded just five this season. At 36, it isn’t hard to picture him out of the league in short order if he can’t rebound.
Smallish defenseman Greg Zanon is solidly built and plays a physical game. He led all Nashville defensemen in blocked shots by more than a 2:1 margin (recording 237) and that alone helps offset the fact that there are generally more shots toward his own net than there are going the other way.
Zanon’s reliable in his own end, and probably not going to get a big raise on July 1st. For any team looking to add some defensive presence and a guy who leads by example, Zanon should be a very appealing target.
Koistinen’s an offensive defenseman and something of a powerplay specialist, but the jury is still out on whether he can produce enough offense to compensate for his defensive shortcomings. He had a nice year in a sheltered role, but his numbers were pumped up by both a great on-ice shooting percentage (10.1%) and on-ice save percentage (.933).
He’s a gamble for anyone interested, and I don’t think he’s shown enough offensively to really be worth pursuing.