Instead of saying good-bye like last summer, the Nashville Predators are asking players to stay a little longer.
Actually, they are asking them to stay a lot longer. Left wing Martin Erat, who signed a seven-year contract with a total compensation of $31.5 million, was back in town last Friday along with David Poile, president of hockey operations/general manager. They met with members of the media at the Sommet Center. Both had returned Thursday from the World Championships which were played in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Quebec City.
“Marty was a little bit of an underdog,” Poile said. “He fought his way to the National Hockey League. He has become one of the best players in our history.
“He was very wise to come over to North America and play in major juniors for a couple of years. He came through our system. He started off fairly low on our lineup. He is one of our top guys playing on one of the top two lines on a regular basis.”
Poile has been the only general manager for the Predators. Barry Trotz has been the only coach the team has known. As they both start preparations for their 11th season, Poile likes the fact that players want to stay in Nashville.
“This is a reflection of our game plan,” Poile said. “We are going to give long-term contracts to the players who are going to keep us competitive for years to come.
“From a personal standpoint I see nothing but an upside to Marty. He was No.1 in ice time among our forwards. That is a reflection of his value to our hockey team.”
Poile credited the Predators’ scouting staff for the selection of Erat in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. At this point in the offseason he has signed the longest contract ever given to a Predators player.
“Seven is an important number to us,” Poile said. “My lucky number is seven. That is the number I wore when I played.
“Marty was a seventh-round pick. History shows that oftentimes when you get that deep in the draft it is often a hope rather than an actuality that the player you pick there will turn out.”
Erat points to former Predators forwards Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg as two reasons he has been able to elevate his game.
“I have learned lots of things from the players who have been here,” Erat said. “I just try to bring it every night. I hope I did that last year and I plan to do it for the next seven years.
“Kariya and Forsberg were such professionals. I would come to the rink at 9 a.m. and Paul would already be here. I would come in at 8:30 and he was still there for me.”
Erat did not want to deal with contract issues during the season. He did want to get a new contract as soon as possible after the Predators were eliminated from the playoffs.
“I am in my prime right now at 26,” Erat said. “It’s nice to have everything set up in my life. I just want to get better and help bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville.
“This past year we had a team that worked every night and every day. We just need some little things for next season like a first- or second-line player. We are going to be fine.”
Poile still wants to lock in defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
“Hopefully, we are choosing really good hockey players,” Poile said. “The contracts we are offering have been a big commitment.
“Hopefully, something that is equally or even more important, we are choosing the right people. If we do that then we are going to continue to be successful.”
ELLIS FACTOR: Poile is continuing talks with the agent for goaltender Dan Ellis. If he signs Ellis, the Predators would possibly go to training camp with three goalies under contract. Chris Mason and Pekka Rinne are also in the mix.
The Predators also have a surplus of talented defensemen. While Poile doesn’t plan to make a big splash in the free agent pool this summer, he might consider a trade or two, probably during the NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa in June.