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Nashville finally dips into free agent pool, inks Lombardi…

According to former Phoenix Coyotes broadcaster Darren Pang, the Nashville Predators have signed former Phoenix Coyotes center Matthew Lombardi. Pang tweeted that the three year deal is worth $3.5 million a year.

A few minutes after Pang announced the news, Predators winger Steve Sullivan publicly welcomed Lombardi to Music City.

Lombardi, 28, had his best offensive season in the NHL last year when he posted 53 points with the Coyotes. He figures, at this point, to center either the first or second line, which bumps the under-achieving David Legwand down to the third line. And let’s face it, given Legwand’s production with his $4.5 million a year contract, Lombardi’s $3.5 million seems like a steal.

The $3.5 million per year salary, by the way, is quite a raise for the Montreal native as he made $2.35 million last year.

The question now becomes who’s the odd man out at the center position? The Preds are now carrying (a projected) seven centers on their opening night roster. In no particular order, the seven pivots are Colin Wilson, Lombardi, Legwand, Jerred Smithson, Cal O’Reilly, Nick Spaling and Marcel Goc. If you throw in Mike Santorelli just for the fun of it, that’s two teams worth of centermen, yet, obviously, Nashville only needs one teams worth. So who becomes the perma-scratch?

Wilson, Lombardi and Legwand are no-brainers. And out of the other four (because we’re not counting Santorelli anymore) Smithson is a true Predators-way player. The guy busts his tail on every shift, works hard in both zones and is probably the best face-off guy on the club. So he’s in. Spaling is young and can be sent down to Milwuakee still without having to clear waivers so he might be an odd-man out but, man, that’s too bad. Spaling is a ferocious penalty killer and another hard worker. It’ll be very difficult to send him to the AHL given his work ethic. O’Reilly, despite his obvious playmaking abilities, was the perma-scratch last year which makes one think he’ll be that again this season. But, unlike last year, he’s on a one-way contract during this campaign and would have to clear waivers to go back to the Admirals. He does have talent but is the victim of a numbers game in Music City and may fall victim to that again without a tremendous training camp that forces the coaches hands. Then that leaves Goc. And, let’s be honest, he was arguably Nashville’s best player on some nights, not to mention he was unbelievable in the postseason. Goc will be in the lineup come hell or high water.

Could a trade be coming to help allieviate the logjam at the center position? It’s going to need to, if you ask me. But what could you get value wise for an O’Reilly or a Spaling? And would the Preds really want to get rid of either of those players as they both bring something completely different to the table?

When training camp starts in September, all these questions will be answered.

Lombardi was not only the first NHL-player free agent signing by Nashville but it was the first one in the Central Division, sans the Chicago Blackhawks.

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