The Predators wasted little time getting down to business on the NHL's opening weekend of free agency, adding three pieces that figure to play prominent roles for the team next season.
The highlight of Saturday's spree came when the Preds signed veteran center Nick Bonino to a four-year, $16.4 million contract. The 29-year-old had 18 goals and 37 points last season while helping the Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champions, defeating Nashville in six games in the Cup Final.
Bonino largely played a supporting role in Pittsburgh, starring on specialty teams, while playing behind superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But he posted 22 goals and 49 points during the 2013-14 season with the Ducks and has shown the skill that makes the Preds believe he can be a key member of their top six.
The move could be especially important as the Predators continue to wait on the retirement decision of captain Mike Fisher. At age 37, Fisher is an unrestricted free agent and is said to be deciding on returning to Nashville on a short-term deal or retiring. Bonino provides the Preds a veteran center to take Fisher's place on the second line if he chooses retirement.
If Fisher elects to return, either Colton Sissons or Calle Jarnkrok could slide to a wing position and give the Preds the type of center ice depth they've never had before.
The Predators also signed veteran wing Scott Hartnell to a one-year, $1 Million deal, returning him to the place he began his career a decade after he played his last game in the blue and gold. Hartnell was drafted by Nashville in 2000 and scored 93 goals over 436 games with the team before his departure.
The 35-year-old had the final two years of a six-year contract with Columbus bought out on Thursday and said he's hope was that he could return to Nashville. While Hartnell's physical, heavy style may not seem like a perfect fit for the way the Predators want to play, he gives them a valuable net front presence they haven't had since trading away Patric Hornqvist three years ago, and also provides another key specialty teams' piece with his contributions to the Power Play.
Hartnell once scored 37 goals playing for Peter Laviolette in Philadelphia and, despite producing just 37 points last season on a paltry 12:00 of average ice time, remained productive, scoring 34 points while at even strength.
The Predators also bolstered their stingy defense, acquiring Alexei Emelin from the expansion Golden Knights in exchange for a third round pick. Emelin, who's played his entire NHL career in Montreal, gives the Preds a depth defensemen to bolster their third pairing or fill in on the top four if P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi or Ryan Ellis go down with an injury.
Nashville made one other move Saturday, shipping forward Colin Wilson to the Avalanche in a trade that acquired a 2019 fourth round pick. The move essentially freed up $4 Million in cap space which was then used to help sign Bonino.
It's a disappointing end in Nashville for Wilson, a former no. 1 draft pick that flashed brilliance at times in the postseason, scoring a franchise series record five goals in the opening round against the Blackhawks in 2015 and led the team in playoff points in 2016, but never seemed to find the level of consistency that either he or the team wanted.
General Manager David Poile still has some money to spend, though large portions of the Predators' remaining money under the cap has to be set aside to re-sign restricted free agents like Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, as well as Fisher if he decides to return.