The Nashville Predators are about to look significantly different in 2020-21, especially now that we know both Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith are on the way out the door.

We already knew some of the Predators’ pending free agents wouldn’t be returning. But now it looks like most, if not all of the major ones won’t be back.

David Poile has his work cut out for him… again.

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, the only way for David Poile to rebuild the Preds is through free agency… and cheaply. According to Cap Friendly, Poile only has around $8 million to work with and he needs to fill some key positions. Here’s what the forward lineup looks like currently, with absences noted:

Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson

??? – Duchene – Turris

??? – Bonino – Grimaldi

Jarnkrok – Sissons – Trenin (Watson)

While it seems clear Poile intends to use money already committed to young talent like Eeli Tolvanen, Philip Tomasino, and Rem Pitlick for at least a couple of these roster spots, he’s going to want some veteran talent as well.

Here are three cheap options David Poile can go after in free agency that can also improve the Preds on the ice.

Jesper Fast

A seven year veteran with the New York Rangers, Fast seems primed to enter free agency. Coming off a 12 goal, 17 assist season playing on an average New York Rangers team, Fast brings speed (naturally) and defensively responsible play, which is something the Predators could use.

Here’s a look at his isolated on-ice metrics from Hockey Viz. For this chart: positive, red numbers on offense are good and negative, blue numbers on the defense are good.

Jesper Fast
Courtesy of Hockey Viz (@IneffectiveMath)

Think of Fast like another version of Calle Jarnkrok. He’s a utility man with some offensive upside, great speed, and a penchant for digging out pucks in the defensive zone. He would be a great addition to the Bonino line, replacing Craig Smith not with shooting volume but with a speedy presence at both ends.

Many are saying Fast would generate a contract with an AAV in the neighborhood of $3 million, which the Preds could definitely afford.

Riley Sheahan

If you want the Predators to get bigger and tougher on the ice, look no further than Riley Sheahan. Listed at 6’4″, 204 pounds, Sheahan would instantly be one of the biggest players on the team. And he would likely be very cheap, probably only around $1 million for one year.

The only problem is… is Sheahan a good hockey player? And would he be a good fit?

The answer to the first question is: yes, but only for the right price. If the Preds get Sheahan for around $1 million, they would get pretty much exactly what they pay for. A big body to play on the bottom six that can beef up the Preds at both ends. He’s a career .32 point per game player, so don’t expect fireworks, but he’ll be an improvement over what they have.

For the record, Austin Watson is a career .25 point per game player. Though the Preds signed him to that contract extension last season, I doubt he figures much into their plans for 2020-21.

If the Preds sign Sheahan, expect him to play on the bottom six, though he could see time on the 2nd line with Duchene and Turris. That pair needs some size to push the opposition out of the way at times. Sheahan could do that with some consistency.

Carl Soderberg

Potentially the most expensive of the three options here, Soderberg is a consistent “get to the middle of the ice” center who could instantly improve the Preds’ scoring depth. He’s not necessarily a top six player, but given the Preds’ talent there, he wouldn’t look out of place there either.

Soderberg’s on-ice production has been very consistent over the years. He’s a career .51 point per game player, putting him right at a 40 point player. That production would put him squarely in the top five on the Preds (based on a full 82 game season) and he could do it for the relatively low price of $4 million per year.

At any price, the Preds could use more players that do this:

Carl Soderberg

Getting to the front of the net and getting shots on net is an evergreen problem for Nashville. Soderberg could instantly improve that area for the Preds.

But where would he play? This is where it gets interesting.

With Soderberg on board, you’ve got another offensive center to play in that 3rd line role with Rocco Grimaldi and possibly a young forward like Eeli Tolvanen. That would bump Nick Bonino up to the 2nd line, likely playing wing alongside Matt Duchene.

But if the Predators were to dump Kyle Turris and his $6 million contract, perhaps Soderberg switches to wing and plays with Duchene? Or maybe Duchene moves to the top line with Johansen and Forsberg or Arvidsson move down?

The possibilities are numerous here. The bigger point however is that Soderberg has a skill that the Preds need and they have just enough money to get it done.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —