Predators stick with what they know at start of NHL free agency

Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 8:33pm

The Nashville Predators prefer to pay for what they know.

That much was apparent Sunday, the first day of the current NHL free agency period, when they signed goalie Chris Mason, who was with them twice previously, and brought back tough guy Brian McGrattan for a second year. Both players signed one-year deals, Mason for $1.5 million and McGrattan for $600,000.

Those signings came in the wake of pacts for defenseman Hal Gill on Thursday (two years, $4 million) and Paul Gaustad on Saturday (four years, $13 million). Both players were acquired near last season’s trade deadline and gave up the opportunity for unrestricted free agency to stay with Nashville.

“I guess I could characterize it that [Gill and Gaustad] bought into our culture and our plan going forward,” general manager David Poile said. “Both are big men. Both are physical. Both are very experienced. Both bring a lot of leadership.

“… Obviously we’re very familiar and comfortable with [Mason]. … We got the perfect person [with] perfect character.”

Consistent with that approach, the Predators also hoped to re-sign veteran defenseman Ryan Suter, one of the top players available. Suter, however, made no decision Sunday, which prompted Poile to say he was not willing to wait indefinitely and was prepared to move on to other options in the coming days even if Suter remained available.

“If I get a commitment then I’m very happy,” Poile said. “If I don’t then I need to go … at least I have to explore things in a different direction.”

When it came to finding a backup for goalie Pekka Rinne, though, he went down a familiar path.

Mason, 36, played 135 games in his two previous stints with Nashville.

He first came to the Predators in a trade with Anaheim days before the start of the inaugural 1998-99 season. He was brought back through the waiver draft following training camp in 2003. His decision to sign as a free agent after two seasons each with St. Louis and Atlanta/Winning completed a transaction trifecta, so to speak.

Similarly, he has filled a variety of roles when he has been with Nashville.

He went 16-9-2-3 in two seasons as Tomas Vokoun’s backup (2003-04 and 2005-06). He was the starter in the 2006 playoffs, when Vokoun was sidelined due to treatment of blood clots. The next two seasons he split time almost evenly, first with Vokoun and then with Dan Ellis.

“Chris is all about team — team has always come first,” Poile said. “His work ethic is second-to-none, and I think he has experience at that position that everybody is looking for. So again, he’ll be a real good fit for the Predators.”

Mason is 136-106-31 all-time, including 58-43-24 with Nashville, and is fourth all-time in wins for the Predators. He replaces 24-year-old Anders Lindback, who was traded last month to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Lindback became available because Rinne agreed to a seven-year, $49 million contract last year, which begins with the coming season.

“Again, we have familiarity with [Mason],” Poile said. “We know him. … It’s not a re-training program or what have you. There’s no question that he’ll fit in with Pekka. He’s really good friends with a lot of other guys still on our team.

“So I think that’s a really good transition that works for us.”

Briefly

• Nashville also signed 25-year-old forward Kevin Henderson to a one-year, two-way contract.

Henderson, a former junior hockey teammate of current Predators Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk signed with the Predators’ East Coast Hockey League affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones, last February but after just two games was loaned to Milwaukee, where he spent the remainder of the season.

He previously has spent time in San Jose’s organization but has yet to make his NHL debut.

The deal will pay him $550,000 if he’s in the NHL and $50,000 if he is in the AHL.