NP.com: Have you starting planning the budget for next season?
DF: Sure. Yes. Strategically it's probably not good for us to talk about that publicly for competitive reasons. Our budget will be significantly higher than it was this year. In fact, I'm quite certain we will spend more on payroll next year than at any time in the history of the club. We're that committed to building this team right back up.
This year, the team's salary cap number comes in just under $36 million, so when Freeman calls for the biggest Predators payroll ever, that certainly means a big step off the NHL's required salary minimum, which is set $16 million below the top end of the Salary Cap. This year, that cap is roughly $52 million, so if you figure in a 5% increase, making it $54.5 million or so next year, the minimum allowed under the CBA would be $38.5 million. I had a bit of a time finding info from 2006-7, but it looks like the Preds total salary then was well north of $40 million, so is Freeman talking about a $43 million+ payroll? That would be sweet, but what might it mean in terms of the roster?
First of all, GM David Poile has been very clear that he wants to sign his Restricted Free Agents (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Martin Erat, mainly). It looks like they've already got $33 million committed for next year for players already under contract. If you pencil Weber in for something close to $4 million per season in his next deal, with Suter and Erat around $5 million per year between the two of them (that is a wild guess off the top of my head), that doesn't leave much to do the following: sign a 2nd goaltender besides Chris Mason, retain Kevin Klein and/or Ville Koistinen, and sign 3 forwards to fill out the 3rd & 4th lines (guys like Martin Gelinas, Jan Hlavac, Darcy Hordichuk and Rich Peverley will all be unrestricted free agents).
In other words, this increase in payroll likely reflects a commitment to retain good, young NHL players entering their 2nd contract, rather than a shopping spree over the summer for free agents. That's not a bad thing at all, but it certainly won't be Christmas in July for Predators fans.
The biggest gain we'll see next year is if Steve Sullivan's back recovers and he can resume playing NHL hockey; if so, that would represent a huge addition to the Nashville lineup, and position them nicely amidst Western Conference contenders that often lack offensive depth.