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May 17, 2012 | 10:45am ET
Remix in Music City?
 This off-season could prove to be extremely dramatic for the future of the Nashville Predators.

NEW YORK, NY -- Regular season success isn't always enough. While a team may raise a banner or two after an amazing regular season, it's not the most coveted banner of all.

The Nashville Predators have had 698 points since the lockout, good for fifth overall in the past seven seasons. Unfortunately, that regular season success has failed to translate to the post-season.

This year, the team pushed all their chips into the center of the table, and once again went home with nothing to show for it.

"It's a tough feeling... a pretty empty feeling," lamented Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne after the 2-1 loss at the hand of the Coyotes.

Unlike a lot of the members of this Predators team, Rinne's future is pretty certain. The star netminder signed a seven-year, $49 million deal just a month into the season, and will be sticking around Music City for quite a long time.

The Predators have always operated as one of the smaller market teams, in a less than traditional NHL market. According to the most recent Forbes NHL valuations, the Predators rank 25th in financial value. Fortunately, due to the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, parity is ever present, and teams with minute operating incomes are able to compete with some of the financial juggernauts of the league.

But herein lies the rub, those small market teams can not always keep their budding superstars through their prime. And for Nashville, the castle may start to crumble down, and the window may be sealed shut.

The largest issue with running a franchise like the Predators, is keeping the players and keeping consistency. A team spends such a long time to build a contender after they enter the league, that it becomes imperative to keep that window open as long as possible. After their second round exit this season, head coach Barry Trotz had a statement released through the team's media relations.

"The biggest thing out of the whole thing is that the Nashville Predators are committed to winning, and that was with the 'all in' factor. We're past the expansion stage, we're past that, and you've got to go through these hard lessons sometimes," he explained.

Trotz also gave some insight into the reason for their failure, "Chemistry is a delicate thing. As I say, sometimes you can add skill or talent and all that. Does it come together at the right time? Or does it not come together at the right time? You can be a chemistry professor all you want, but you're dealing with human beings and the human factor on both sides."

Moving forward, there will be a lot of tough questions staring the Predators down in the off-season.

Team captain and Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber in entering the last year of his arbitrated one-year, $7.5 million contract. He will be a restricted free agent for the final time in his career, and the Predators will likely explore the options of locking him up long term. Their only other potential option could be a move similar to what the Devils did with their current captain Zach Parise, and give Weber another one-year deal to buy themselves some more time.

Last time around, Weber made it pretty clear he wanted to stay in Nashville, "I love it here. The people in Nashville are awesome. The fans are the best in the League. I wouldn't want to go anywhere else," Weber added, but he is not in a hurry to rush into a deal. "I don't think it has to get done quickly. I want to stay here, there is no rush. It's not like I'm not going anywhere."

The other option, one that is far less likely, would be the exploration of a trade. They would definitely need to be blown away by any potential offer.

The more interesting case is that of his defense partner Ryan Suter. Suter, the stud 27-year-old shutdown defenseman, with some good offense to his game as well, is set to be an unrestricted free agent. He will become fair game for any team to open their checkbook and put in a call to his agent. There will be plenty of teams with the cap space to get a deal done, and this contract will likely have a high integer preceding those six zeroes.

Suter was quite reserved after the loss about his contract situation, but after a few days finally spoke up about his impending uncertainty, "Wherever I sign I want to be there for the rest of my career , and that affects my family, my wife, my kid, if we have more kids, everything plays into it."

He also explained that he will be in contact with GM David Poile over the next few weeks, "This morning I had a meeting with David (Poile) and we talked about everything and the future, and how everything will go, and I think we're going to meet again in a couple of weeks and kind of make a decision."

Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings GM, will very likely be making more than one phone call to Suter's agent on July 1. The interest will depend greatly on the future of Nicklas Lidstrom, who may have played his last season in the NHL.

There will be several other teams that will atleast take a flyer on the defenseman, with teams like the Hurricanes being reportedly interested in spending big money in free agency this year. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford spoke to the Raleigh News and Observer and let them in a conversation he had with new minority owner Peter Karmanos.

"Based on my conversation with Mr. Karmanos, we've talked about a top-line player," Rutherford said. "He agrees that that's something we want to do. Not what we've done in the past with free agents, where we go to the second-tier free-agent group, or the third tier or the fourth tier, but a top-line player. If it's available by free agency or trade, we're going to do everything we can to make that happen this year."

The speculation is that it is Zach Parise who tops their list, but Ryan Suter wouldn't be a bad consolation prize if they swing and miss there.

The other usual suitors should be at least semi-involved in the bidding, with teams like the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and other big market teams having some money to spend this upcoming offseason. And Brian Burke can never be counted out of anything.

Upfront, Nashville has always lacked a top-tier forward. They drafted a bonafide star in Alexander Radulov, who has spent most of his time in the KHL since his draft year. The talented Russian forward made headlines when he joined the team during the stretch run. He may leave the NHL again with the lure of big money in Russia. He also garnered some controversy when he and teammate Andrei Kostitsyn broke curfew and were suspended by the team for two games.

There is a chance he will not suit up for Nashville next season, if they can't offer him a contract comparable to what he would get in his home country.

That begs the question, what will Nashville do with the slightly over 30 million dollars in cap space they have heading into the season?

Weber will likely take up eight to nine million of that, depending on the length of the deal. Sergei Kostitsyn and Colin Wilson will be require new deals. There are a few players that they could look to re-sign like Paul Gaustad, Sergei's brother Andrei Kostitsyn (the two played together in Montreal previously) and one of their veteran defenseman.

Unfortunately, for Nashville Predators fans, the off-season will be shrouded in tough decisions for management. It's hard to imagine what this roster may look like next year, but there is a good chance it won't have the depth this year's playoff team had.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.


 

 

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