The Nashville Predators waited a little more than a day before they dove into the NHL’s free agent market.
Once they did, they went for speed.
Nashville signed veteran center Matthew Lombardi – one of the fastest players available – to a three-year, $10.5 million deal on Friday. The average salary of the contract ($3.5 million per season) was more than the franchise spent in the entire 2009 free agency period and nearly doubled what he earned in 2009-10 with the Phoenix Coyotes ($1.8 million).
“He’s one of the best skaters in the league,” general manager David Poile said. “ … Now we’re done (with free agency). Did we spend more than we wanted on one player? Yes we did. But we got a player who is going to make us a better team.”
Lombardi, 28, was considered by many to be one of the top players available at his position. He began fielding offers shortly after the start of free agency (11 a.m. Thursday) but ultimately was in no rush to make his decision.”
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking,” Lombardi said. “You’re weighing your options and it’s a pretty big moment in pretty much every way. I had to decide whether or not to try to speed up the process. … Just the way things turned out, I needed time to make the right decision for me.
“I’ve obviously played against (Nashville) a lot – I’ve seen the way they play and it’s a place I wanted to play.”
Lombardi has 89 goals and 236 points in 444 career NHL contests with Calgary and Phoenix. He had a career-high 53 points, including 19 goals, last season with the Coyotes.
He has played 78 games or more in five of the past six seasons and has had more than 35 points in four straight.
“For me to be a good player, I have to use my speed,” he said. “When I’m not, I’m not a very effective player.”
Lombardi originally was a third-round draft choice (90th overall) in 2002 after having scored 130 points (57 goals, 73 assists) in 66 games of his final season in junior hockey. He became a full-time NHL player in his second season as a professional.
“His stats are good, and I think they’re going to be even better with us,” Poile said. “I’m really excited about this. We had him really high on our free agent list but I did not contemplate that he would come to us.
“The player likes the way we play and likes our style. At times over the last two days it looked like things might be going in a different direction, but we couldn’t be happier how it turned out.”
He added that many people around the league were quick to send congratulations via text messages once the deal was announced.