The Nashville Predators have an ample amount of problems to address this summer and David Poile implied to The Tennessean Monday that backup goaltending will be among the issues dealt with. With that said, it appears that Nashville will let unrestricted free agent Chris Mason walk on July 5 and will sign a new backup via free agency.
Poile certainly has a case. In 11 games this year, Mason posted a substandard 3.73 GAA and .873 SV% en route to a 1-7-1 record. Concerning his second stint with Nashville, his gargantuan beard remains the sole focal point.
With Mason out of the picture, the Predators need to be aggressive and work quickly when unrestricted free agency opens on July 5. There is a modest collection of backup goaltenders on the market this year. Among the available include Ray Emery, Nikolai Khabibulan, Jose Theodore, Anton Khudobin, Dan Ellis, Mathieu Garon, Jason Labarbera, Brian Boucher, Thomas Greiss and Michael Leighton, assuming those mentioned are not resigned by their most recent clubs.
Judging Poile’s past free agent tendencies, it’s safe to say that Dan Ellis and Mark Dekanich are in candidacy. Nashville brought back Mason last year by signing him to a one-year, $1.25 million contract last summer on the opening day of free agency. Ellis and Dekanich, both former Predators, will likely be looking for work on July 5.
Nashville is notorious for bargain signings and squeezing as much value out of recycled players as humanly possible. Dekanich played with the Winnipeg Jets’ affiliate St. John’s IceCaps last season and has only played in one career NHL game. However, the window of opportunity to play meaningful hockey for the 27-year-old netminder is quickly closing and the Predators may be able to cash in on a familiar face desperate for an NHL jersey.
As for Ellis, the 32-year-old veteran amassed a 3.13 GAA and 906 SV% in 19 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. The Canes have made no effort to resign Ellis and it appears he is a lock to hit the open market next month. Unlike Dekanich, Poile will probably have competition on this one.
So what should the only general manager the Predators’ organization has ever known do? If it were me, I wouldn’t go the former Predator route, but leave it as a viable backup plan. The most sought after goalie will be current Chicago Blackhawks backup Ray Emery and competing for his services financially would not be the Predator way.
No, the ideal backup goaltender should be Jason Labarbera. As the Phoenix Coyotes continue to be distracted by relocation issues, it is becoming more apparent every day they will allow their stellar backup to test free agent waters. Labarbera was spectacular in 2013, which warranted a 2.64 GAA and .923 SV%. The 33-year-old will be exiting a similar system and would be more than happy backing up Pekka Rinne.
David Poile will hopefully pursue the services of Labarbera or something similar in Boucher, Khabibulan or Greiss. If he cannot compete with the heavy spenders around the league, however, expect the backup plan to be another former Predator making his return to Music City.