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What does Klein’s 3 year extension mean for Preds?…

On Tuesday, General Manager David Poile and the Nashville Predators announced that they’ve secured defenseman Kevin Klein for three more years.

But things are rarely as they seem so what does the extension really mean for the Preds? Is this another example of the “we believe in our own” mentality the front office is known for? Is this a set-up move so they can trade somebody at the deadline? Is this the first step in a sign-and-trade deal?

The consensus is that the signing is a preemptive strike to solidify the blueline due to fellow defenseman Dan Hamhuis‘ impending free agency come July 1.

The Smithers, British Columbia native stands to get a substantial raise during free agency this summer. The $2.5 million he’s making this season ($2 million cap hit) will more than likely be doubled by an over-zealous team trying to anchor their blueline. The Predators will not pay that kind of money to keep Hamhuis in Music City, especially when the glaring need is an offensive winger.

Enter the “set-up move” scenario.

Hamhuis, considered by most outside of Nashville to be a top-2 calibur defenseman, is one of the most sought after blueliners deemed “available” at the March 3 trade deadline. Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks, Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames and Jack Johnson of the Los Angeles Kings are the only three defensemen ranked higher than Hamhuis on’s Top 50 Tradeable Players blog.

While is a rumor site, there are no rumors being reported on that list. Just conjecture about who the Top 50 available players are come deadline day. And, if you’ve kept up with the NHL for any length of time this season you know that, with the exception of a handful, that list is pretty accurate.

Maybe not in precise order, but pretty accurate.

Hamhuis is a 27-year old defenseman who has six full NHL seasons under his belt. He averages 27 points a season, rarely misses a game, isn’t afraid to play physical and is reliable on special teams. There are plenty of clubs who would mortgage their future for a guy like Hammer who’s just now entering the prime of his career and appears eager for a change of scenery, not to mention the ice time that comes with being on a top-defensive pairing.

So locking up Klein helps make Hamhuis expendable. He can now be part of a package deal to bring in a sniper. He could be used to get high picks in next years Entry Draft. Poile could even afford to wait until the last minute to trade him, knowing that, if they don’t make a deal, they’ll have a key part of their defensive corps for the stretch run and into the post season.

Without the Klein signing – thus the likleyhood they lose both Hamhuis and Klein on July 1 – Nashville feels like their bottom two defense pairings will be decimated next season. Sure you’ve got Olympians Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the top d-line, but after that what do you have? Second-year guys Cody Franson and Alexander Sulzer are hardly ready for 20:00 of ice time at the NHL level, top candidates Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis have never seen NHL ice period and current Predator Francis Bouillon is a pending free agent himself.

Way too many question marks for a guy like Poile.

Whatever the case, the Preds could go into the playoff stretch knowing that, even though they lost a guy they’d like to keep, they’ve got the remainder of the blueline nailed down for the foreseeable future.

But while that scenario is the likely one, this signing could also be the first step in a sign-and-trade move. Klein, 25, is an affordable player who has yet to hit the prime of his career. He’s averaging just over 20:00 of ice time this year, a full 7:00 more per game than last season. A very attractive combination for any team trying to bolster their lineup for a playoff run and, now that he won’t be a free agent this summer, for a team trying to avoid a rental player situation.

While the sign-and-trade scenario seems the least likely, it can’t be ruled out. With the way sports is today, serviceable players become a hot commodity around the deadline for any team who’s payroll is a little on the expensive side. Klein would be a top four defenseman on 24 of the 30 NHL clubs and, if those 24 teams can get a guarantee he’ll be there in the years to come – let alone for a low price – they’d jump at the chance.

Whatever the case, Klein has been signed to a three year deal worth $1.3 million/season. Whether he wears a Nashville sweater until 2013 isn’t as much the story as what the signing really means for the Preds.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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