Even with solid, young corps, Preds seek older defenseman

Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 10:30am

The Nashville Predators believe it’s only a matter of time before some more of their young defensemen are ready for the National Hockey League.

Even so, they will try to buy some time for that group — preferably just one season — with the addition of a veteran defenseman.

General manager David Poile said the team’s primary focus in free agency, which began Wednesday, is to add an older blue liner, if possible. The idea is to find a replacement for Greg de Vries but at roughly the same salary de Vries earned in 2008-09 ($2.75 million) or even less.

The team also lost defenseman Greg Zanon on Wednesday to free agency.

It’s unlikely that anything will happen in the next day or two, when players are getting some large contracts.

“From our standpoint, we’re looking at a couple of defensemen — more likely a defenseman we might be able to get on a one-year deal,” Poile said. “I think we’ll actually take a day or two – or even longer now.

“It’s not critical. I want to find the right person, the right role, but we have so many younger defensemen that I think we’ll be OK in that area.”

Some veteran defensemen currently unsigned (with most recent team and 2008-09 salary in parentheses) are: 28-year-old Jordan Leopold (Florida, $1.5 million); 29-year-old Francois Beauchemin (Anaheim, $1.65 million); 30-year-old Derek Morris (New York Rangers, $3.916 million); 34-year-old Karlis Skrastins, a former Predator (Florida, $2.4 million) 35-year-old Adrian Aucoin (Calgary, $4 million); and 38-year-old Ken Klee, (Phoenix, $1.25 million).

“Somewhere along the line I think we’ll sign another defenseman,” Poile said. “There’s some terrific hockey players out there. If the price is right, we’ll be happy to work out a deal.

“I’m also quite comfortable that we have some really good young players who are close to getting in the lineup. … I think everyone realizes we have a lot of good young defensemen, a lot of depth.”

Nashville has home-grown defensemen Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Kevin Klein and Alexander Sulzer already signed to NHL contracts for 2009-10 and beyond. None of them are older than 26.

It also has prospects Cody Franson, Teemu Laakso and 2007 first-round choice Jonathan Blum, all of whom are expected to contend for a roster spot.