The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/08/12 at 11:56 AM ET
Updated 3x with Ansar Khan’s take at 3:25 PM: The Free Press’s Helene St. James, who will take part in a live chat with readers at 11 AM EDT today, added some napalm to the controversy (among fans, anyway) regarding Johan Franzen’s rough playoff run as compared to his strong showing with Sweden at the World Championships overnight.
This morning, she wonders aloud whether the Red Wings might take advantage of the Nashville Predators’ second-round ouster to help “sell” Ryan Suter on joining Nashville’s slain archrival despite having bested a team which has a more stable roster going forward, while also possessing what might be a more consistent and financially viable commitment to win, and spend to the cap in order to do so, on a yearly basis:
We all know the Wings are interested in Ryan Suter, an extraordinarily talented 27-year-old defenseman who is eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1. The Predators would like to keep him, but they also want to keep their captain and Norris trophy finalist, Shea Weber, who will be a restricted free agent. They just extended goalie Pekka Rinne’s contract for $49 million over seven years. They have a projected $32 million in salary-cap space for next season, but they only have 12 players signed. Up front, nine players are headed for some sort of free agency, and so are five on defense, including Suter and Weber.
Weber made $7.5 million this season and, given the year he’s had and how brightly his star is shining right now, he’s not going to take any less. Christian Ehrhoff made a staggering $10 million this past season with Buffalo, but his contract is for $40 million and 10 years, so the cap hit is $4 million. A better comparison is to Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Chicago’s Duncan Keith. Chara, 35, made $8.5 million last season, in what was the first year of a seven-year deal worth $45.5 million (that’s a cap hit of nearly $7 million). Keith, a 28-year-old Michigan State alumnus, made $8 million last season and will make the same each of the next two seasons. His deal is 13 years at $72 million, with a cap hit of about $5.5 million per year.
So Weber will hit some sort of jackpot. Suter is going to get a raise, too, because he just finished a contract that paid him $3.5 million each of the past four years. He’s going to demand around $7 million and probably will need a long-term deal to get a respectable salary-cap number. The fact that the collective bargaining agreement is expiring makes the numbers game harder, but the salary cap is expected to stay around the $64.3 million it was in 2011-12.
The Wings have $43.5 million committed to 17 players headed into next season. The big question is whether captain Nicklas Lidstrom will return or retire. But even if he does return, the Wings need to replace Brad Stuart. Allotting Lidstrom the same $6.2 million he made last season, the Wings still have room to add Suter, especially if they can work a deal that gets the cap hit down to around $5 million.
(And yes, there’d also be room to add forward Zach Parise, should that scenario unfold).
Now why does it help the Wings that the Coyotes bumped the Predators in five games? Because it means the Predators, for all the gambling they did at the trade deadline to become deeper for the playoffs, are still a team that never has made it past the second round of the playoffs. They’re a team that has won all of two playoff series. Had they gone further, maybe Suter—and let me make it clear this is me speculating—sees the Predators as a place he can win. Now they don’t look quite so formidable.
St. James suggests that the Red Wings’ star power (see: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, yes, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula, Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, yes, Jimmy Howard, etc.), strong supporting cast, cap space, of course, and much more secure roster situation—the Wings’ only unrestricted free agents are Jiri Hudler, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Ty Conklin, and other than re-signing restricted free agents Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Kyle Quincey, next year’s Wings are highly likely to resemble this year’s Wings team in terms of personnel, coaching and of course team philosophy and ownership’s commitment to winning on an every-year basis instead of going for it all in what might have been a one-and-done run for an ownership group that can’t sustain its spending.
I think that the Predators might very well re-sign Suter, who seems to be pretty darn happy where he is, but I’m curious as to what you think…And I’m sure St. James will want to hear from you when her chat begins in a few minutes.
Update: The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan weighs in on the situation as well:
The Ryan Suter watch will definitely begin in earnest now that the Nashville Predators have been eliminated in the playoffs. Every move and quote regarding Suter’s upcoming free agency is going to be analyzed for the next month. The Phoenix Coyotes made sure of that with a surprising five-game series victory over Nashville.
Suter can an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He is on the radar screen of the Red Wings, but also the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings, among others.
The Predators have been optimistic about re-signing Suter. Ownership has said it’ll be aggressive in keeping Suter and fellow defenseman Shea Weber (a restricted free agent), after signing goalie Pekka Rinne to a big contract early this season. But the fact the Predators have 15 unrestricted or restricted free agents, and with a limited overall bidget to do so, makes the situation sticky.
Also is the fact Nashville couldn’t get past the second round. The Predators, ultimately, could have shown Suter they are a true Stanley Cup contender had they reached the Western Conference Finals or made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. They certainly looked the part against the Red Wings. But Phoenix pretty much had its way against the Predators in round two.
Even if the Predators can re-sign Suter, the lack of depth surrounding Suter, Rinne and Weber could be a negative in Suter’s mind. The Predators wouldn’t look much different than they’ve been looking for the past several seasons. Which, further, could force Suter out of Music City.
And to the Red Wings? We’ll see.
Update #3: the Nashville Examiner’s Jim Diamond offers this take on Suter:
All-star defenseman Ryan Suter is slated to become an unrestricted free agent July 1st unless the Predators can ink him to a new deal prior to that date. Defensemen of Suter’s ilk do not hit the market very often, so the potential suitors for Suter’s services will be many, and they will come with large contracts offers and will attempt to convince him that their team has the potential to with the Stanley Cup he so desires.
Suter is coming off of a contract that paid him $3.5 million, less than half the amount that was paid to his defensive partner and fellow All-star Shea Weber. Nashville’s attempts to re-sign Suter have failed thus far. During this winter’s All-star weekend in Ottawa, Suter announced that he wanted to concentrate on playing and not negotiating a new deal, causing waves across the hockey-playing parts of North America.
Following Monday night’s elimination, Suter did not sound like he was long for Nashville. It may be easy to read too much into a statement that was made just minutes after a disappointing loss, but when asked if he wanted to be back in Nashville, Suter said, “Right now I am kind of disappointed about how tonight went, and I haven’t really thought about it.”
Prior to delivering that answer, Suter repeated the question asked of him, a ‘tell’ that skilled investigators will say is a sign that the forthcoming answer may not be completely accurate. To think that Suter hasn’t thought about whether or not he wants to stay in Nashville would seem like the most gigantic of stretches.
Update #3: And here comes MLive’s Ansar Khan:
Some expect the cap to rise from $64.3 million to around $70 million, despite uncertainly with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. In any event, it likely won’t decline.
The Red Wings will spend up to the cap if necessary. Nashville, which has a tighter budget, will not.
Suter is No. 1 on the Red Wings’ wish list, regardless of whether Lidstrom returns. Some in the organization believe Suter is the closest thing they have seen to Lidstrom. He is an all-around defenseman who moves the puck well, has a terrific shot from the point, likes to hit, logs a lot of minutes and has been extremely durable. And he’s only 27.
Suter turned down a lucrative offer from Nashville during the season. Some believe he wants to sign with the Minnesota Wild.
Suter and New Jersey forward Zach Parise – who is No. 2 on the Red Wings’ wish list – will be the premier free agents on the market, if they don’t re-sign with their teams before July 1.
The relatively thin free-agent crop will only increase their value and their number of suitors.
The Predators’ first-round triumph over the Red Wings seemed to signal a changing of the guard. But Nashville’s second-round meltdown shows just how quickly the balance of power can shift in a parity-laden NHL.
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