Kostitsyn won't cash in on improved play anytime soon

Sunday, February 6, 2011 at 10:05pm

Trust is a word used often these days in conjunction with Sergei Kostitsyn.

The broadening trust coach Barry Trotz has in the Nashville Predators’ 23-year-old forward is evident in Kostitsyn’s increased role and ice time in recent weeks. Kostitsyn says he similarly trusts the coaches and what they tell him. 

“I think when [the] coach trusts you, you feel a little more comfortable every game,” Kostitsyn said.

For now, though, trust is as far as it goes. The Predators aren’t interested in adding any bank for Kostitsyn. 

Three weeks remain before the NHL’s trade deadline, which makes this a critical time in teams’ long-term planning. It is a point on the calendar when the Predators routinely execute contract extensions with players who are in the final months of their current deals as they seek to maintain continuity and create a measure of certainty more than four months before the end of the contract year. 

Kostitsyn, in his first year with Nashville, is playing on a one-year, $550,000 pact to which he agreed eight days after being acquired in a trade with Montreal last summer. With 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) through the first 51 games, he looks like not only a bargain but one of the most promising offensive talents the franchise has had. 

Despite all of that, the subject of a new deal has not been raised.

“No, not yet,” general manager David Poile said. “The offseason would be a more appropriate time for that. … He’s been so much better the last [30] or so games than he was the first 20, I think we’d all like to see how he finishes the season. Then we can talk and see what we think and what he thinks.” 

One thing working against Kostitsyn is his age. In general, unrestricted free agency in the NHL does not begin until a player turns 27. At worst, he’ll be a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Predators will have the right to match any offer made by another team or receive compensation should he actually sign with another club, which rarely happens. (See related information below.)

Kostitsyn’s most realistic option other than to accept whatever Nashville offers is to play overseas, somewhere such as Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. But he said he’s not interested in that. 

But questions about Kostitsyn’s character and desire during his first three NHL seasons, all with the Canadiens, have solidified the Predators’ caution. He made headlines last year when he walked out on that team after being sent down to the minors, and there were alleged connections to unsavory characters outside the hockey world. 

None of those concerns were allayed early this season, as Kostitsyn collected just three points and was a healthy scratch once by the end of November. “When I didn’t play much, I just wanted to keep working hard and wait for my time,” he said. “[Now Trotz] should know me a little bit more.”

The combination of a serious conversation with Trotz and increased opportunity because of other players’ injuries produced immediate results. His goal Dec. 1 at Columbus started a streak of eight straight games with at least a point, during which he racked up 10 points in total. He has had five multipoint games since then and already has established career highs for goals and points in a season. 

“He was really close to losing out on playing time and possibly even a position on the roster,” Trotz said. “We talked about some things, and he really started to trust us and what we were saying. He finally started to come around to the Predators’ way. 

“The more time he spent with us, the more he got to know us and trust us as an organization and a staff.” 

All of which makes it seem worth it to keep him around a while longer.  

 

Contract extensions

Jan. 12, 2011

Jerred Smithson, C/LW; two years, $1.6 million: The new deal, which begins next season, provides him a minimal raise over his current salary ($775,000) and guarantees the Predators will have a veteran presence for defensive matchups. He’ll be 34 by the time the deal runs out. 

Jan. 19, 2010

Kevin Klein, D; three years, $4.05 million: Playing on the second unit for the first time, Klein is on pace to average better than 20 minutes of ice time for the first time in his career. He’s also likely to establish career highs in each of the primary offensive categories as well as plus-minus. He’ll be 27 and eligible for unrestricted free agency when the pact expires following 2011-12. 

Jan. 27, 2010

Marcel Goc, C; one year, $775,000: He was a bargain at the $550,000 for which he signed prior to last season. Currently on pace for his second straight career-best offensive season, he still looks well worth what he is being paid. 

Jordin Tootoo, RW; two years, $2.5 million: Tootoo also got a two-year deal extension in 2008, but this one kept him from becoming a free agent after last season. It looked like it paid off when he played some of the best, most consistent hockey of his career through the first three months of this season. The risk factor greatly increased when he voluntarily entered the league’s substance abuse treatment program in December. 

Feb. 24, 2010

Pekka Rinne, G; two years, $6.8 million: Given that the contract pays him $2.8 million this season (Rinne will earn $4 million in 2011-12), it looks like a steal. The market for proven No. 1 goalies easily can be twice that amount. What happens when this one runs out (he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency) could have a significant bearing on the long-term future of the team. 

Feb. 1, 2008

J.P. Dumont, RW; four years, $16 million: Likely not the best extension ever offered by the Predators, since Dumont’s offensive production and playing time have dipped steadily since it was inked. It includes a no-trade clause that Dumont has shown no inclination to waive.

David Boclair