This fall the Nashville Predators’ biggest challenge might be trying to squeeze 27 NHL-caliber players into 23 available roster spots.
“One good thing is that we do have 27 NHL quality players,” said Michael Santos, director of hockey operations for the Predators. “We are not going to be going into this season saying we need one more player in this spot or that spot. We know we have a legitimate roster. We proved that at the end of the season. If anything we have more than a legitimate roster.
“Because of injuries when we ended the season we had 15 forwards here including Rich Peverley, Jan Hlavac and Brandon Bochenski, who were added to our original 13 out of training camp. We had eight defensemen the whole season. And we could have three goaltenders next season.”
Santos isn’t counting up-and-coming players like forwards Antti Pihlstrom and Patric Hornqvist and Janne Niskala to name just a few of the top prospects. And the future of forward Steve Sullivan is also being considered as well.
“The list goes on and that is a tribute to the whole organization that we have that many players,” Santos said. “Unfortunately, you can only keep 23 and dress 20.
“Pihlstrom is going to certainly challenge for a spot. Hornqvist is going to be over here. We could say we have 29 or 30 guys that are legitimate NHL players.”
Also, the Predators are actively working to sign goaltender Dan Ellis, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. They also want to sign defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, both restricted free agents.
That means the numbers game might close the door on a few players.
“Somewhere along the line four players are going to have to go,” Santos said. “It is a matter of which four.
“Everything will be taken into account. We will look at productivity and what they have added on and off of the ice.”
Forwards Darcy Hordichuk, Martin Gelinas and Jan Hlavac might find there is no room on the roster.
Hordichuk has been with the Predators for three seasons. He contributes a physical presence that is sometimes needed, but he played in only 45 games this past season with one goal and two assists and 80 penalty minutes. He also played in five playoff games.
“Darcy, through his agent, is trying to get the best deal that he possibly can,” Santos said. “But I honestly believe that Darcy enjoys Nashville, really enjoys this organization and wants to be here.
“This is his first kick at unrestricted free agency. He has to see what the market will bear both financially and in terms of years. If we were to offer him something I wouldn’t expect him to jump at it unless he thinks it is worth it for him.”
A positive for Hordichuk is that he understands his role with the Predators and has accepted it.
“We don’t have any expectations of Darcy other than to play his role to the best of his ability,” Santos said. “There are certain teams that we match up with when his element is needed more than against other teams. A team that Darcy has played against quite a lot the last couple of years is Columbus.
“There are other teams we play where his game is not suited to the style that we are going to play against that team. It is a game of chess when it comes to filling out your lineup card.”
Gelinas and Hlavac both contributed to the Predators’ success last season, but both could find themselves on the free agent market this summer due to the Predators’ potential roster backlog.
“We had a brief discussion with Gelinas before he left for the summer,” Santos said. “He was a great role model for our players. He did a lot for us off the ice that we really appreciated. If there is room for a player like that we would like to have him back.
“Hlavac was great for us after the trade deadline and in the playoffs. We appreciate everything that he did. Again, it will be a matter of whether we have the roster space. It is going to be interesting to see how it all comes out.”