The Nashville Predators cannot guarantee that Roman Josi eventually will be as good as, or better than, Ryan Suter.
They certainly hope that is the case, particularly now that they have ensured that Josi, a second-round pick in 2008, won’t bolt the franchise as soon as he is eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Josi agreed to a seven-year, $28 million contract Monday that gives the Predators his rights until he is 30, three years past the age when players become eligible for free agency. The deal pays him $2.5 million for the coming season and increases the salary each of the first six years to $5.25 million in 2018-19. He will earn $4 million in the final year.
The Switzerland native who was a star at the recent 2013 IIHF World Championships has played exactly 100 NHL contests, barely more than a full season.
“There’s risks with everything you do and we’ve weighed them all out — the benefits of a short-term contract versus the long one that we did, the dollars that you can sign him with in a short-term contract versus the dollars that we signed him for,” general manager David Poile said. “After lots of thoughts, lots of negotiations on both sides we both agreed that this was the place we wanted to be.
“I like the fact that Roman wanted to commit here for seven years. Aside from the money, he’s committed here for seven years and that feels like it gives us that good foundation and stability that we’ve been looking for.”
Suter spurned numerous long-term offers from Nashville left and left last summer after seven seasons when he accepted a 13-year, $98 million deal from the Minnesota Wild. In his first campaign with Minnesota he was named a Norris Trophy finalist.
Josi assumed Suter’s role as Shea Weber’s defense partner and averaged 23:31 of ice time per night during the 2012-13 season. That was up from 18:23 the previous season, his first in the NHL. Even so, his production improved only marginally to 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 48 games after he had 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 52 contests the previous season.
Weber, in the first year of a 14-year, $110 million deal, which was the result of an offer sheet he signed with Philadelphia after he too declined long-term offers. He finished with a team-high 28 points but had with a minus rating (minus-2) for the first time in six years and just the second time in his career.
“For us, it’s a long-term investment at very high dollars,” Poile said. “There’s always [the possibility] of the player not developing or the injury factor, any number of situations. … When you have top players it gives you lots of options. And with Josi and Weber on the blue line we have two top players.”
Forward Martin Erat was 27 years old when he began a seven-year, $31.5 million contract with the expectation that his best days were ahead of him after a season in which he scored a career-high with 57 points (16 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games. He topped that production only once, with 58 points in 71 games in 2011-12 before he was traded to Washington in April.
Josi’s deal comes a little more than a month after right wing Patric Hornqvist, who was one season from free agency, agreed to a five-year pact.
“For sure, for me, [the Suter situation] is one of those factors with doing those types of contracts,” Poile said. “… Last year we saw a number of players who were in the same area Roman is this year sign two-year, what we call ‘bridge contracts’ with the idea to see where they’re going to be in another year. … We talked about that with the agent and with Roman and that was certainly a possibility.
“At the end of the day when the dollars got to be where they were and the years got to be where they were it just seemed it made sense for both sides to go in this direction.”