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Who should the Preds consider when free agency arrives?

We’re less than 24 hours away from the one of the most exciting times of the year not named Christmas, New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day. We’re less than 24 hours away from NHL Free Agency.

At noon Eastern on July 1, teams will start signing players in hopes that those players give them the best opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. Typically, the first day or free agency is has a whirlwind of activity for 29 NHL teams. The other team is the Nashville Predators who rarely make hasty decisions, thus overpaying, in regards to highly-coveted players. But, in all honesty, this year could be different as the Preds have actually cleared out some cap space with the recent trades of Jason Arnott and Dan Hamhuis.

Even though Hamhuis wasn’t literally on the payroll for next season, by shipping him out of town, they, in theory, cleared the cap space they would’ve used to pay him. And as far as Arnott goes, the Preds were able to clear $4.5 million from the books. That’s quite a chunk of change for an aging veteran who’s best years are behind him, not to mention he had a no trade clause and agreed to waive it.

Now, obviously, Nashville needs to sign their leading scorer from last season Patric Hornqvist and he should eat up at least half of the cap space they cleared when Arnott left. But, that still leaves roughly $2 million on the table and whatever they would’ve paid Hamhuis.

So, while it’s entirely possible the Preds do nothing until September when they can assess their team in camp, let’s go shopping, shall we?

Using Sam McCraig’s Top 50 Unristricted Free Agents blog on Yahoo! as a guide, we’ll be running down who the Predators should consider adding as a forward once the clock strikes noon Eastern.

01. Ilya Kovalchuk – Left Wing– RE-SIGNED WITH NEW JERSEY (7/19)
Now I know I lobbied for the Preds to trade for the Russian sniper at the trade deadline but that was a completely different situation. Kovalchuk would’ve been a great short-term fit for the struggling offense in Nashville and would’ve conveyed a message that they were serious about making a deep post season run. At this point though, he’d cost way too much and would literally cripple any hopes and dreams of re-signing Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in 2011 and 2012, respectively. There’s zero chance of Poile signing Kovalchuk for the more than $8 million/year he’ll command.

02. Matthew Lombardi – Center — SIGNED WITH NASHVILLE (7/2)
One thing is clear: the Predators do not need any more centers. They should consider themselves lucky that they were able to unload Arnott to the New Jersey Devils as he had a no trade clause and was helping prevent the development of the younger centers in the system. Lombardi has become a 50-point guy since joining the Phoenix Coyotes and is a former 20 goal scorer but, again, the Preds don’t need a marginal center who can put up 50 points (although they’d love to get that out of David Legwand after last season). They need a winger who can put up at least 60. Count Lombardi out.

03. Alexander Frolov – Left Wing — SIGNED WITH THE NY RANGERS (7/27)
Frolov is interesting. He’s a two-time 30 goal scorer, a former 70-point scorer and is exactly the type of player Nashville needs: a flashy, dangerous winger who can score at any given time. The problem is his attitude. While in the coaches dog house last year, he was demoted to the third line at times and, instead of responding by working harder, he responded with his worst season statistically since 2004. Additionally, Frolov will command at least $4 million a year and, with the shallow pool of offensive talent available, don’t be surprised if he gets more. We’ll say “likely not” on Frolov.

04. Maxim Afinogenov – Left Wing
Alright, I’m about to say it: Afinogenov in Nashville won’t work. I know that goes against everything I’ve been saying for about a year but look at the facts: he’s proven he can score again and he won’t be as cheap as he would’ve been last year around this time. The whole point of lobbying for him was because he’d be a cheap pick up after his two seasons in Lindy Ruff’s doghouse. All he did last year – for a mere $800,000, by the way – was tally 61 points. Which, in case you’re wondering, would’ve led Nashville in scoring. But now he’ll probably get $2 or $3 million a year which isn’t nearly as attractive.

05. Marek Svatos – Right Wing
In Svatos lies a 28-year old sniper who’s a former 30-goal scorer who’s in his prime. Of course, a wealth of injuries also lies within Svatos. The Kosice, Slovakia native typically misses an average of 19 games a year. Now, the fact that he tallied 32 goals despite missing 21 games that season is pretty amazing but he was playing with guys like Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay that year. Could Nashville’s playmakers of JP Dumont, Steve Sullivan and Colin Wilson set him up with the same kind of regularity even if he were to miss 20 games? Svatos is a gamble.

06. Olli Jokinen – Center — SIGNED WITH CALGARY (7/1)
There was a time when I thought Jokinen might be a good pick up for Nashville. But, unlike my Afinogenov argument, I would’ve been wrong. Dead wrong, actually. Jokinen has proved to be a waste of talent wherever he’s gone. In Florida, it was easy to just say “oh, he’s been on a bad team but still produced. That’s worth something, right?” Yeah well, since then, he’s been on the Coyotes, the Flames and the Rangers and done what? You guessed it, nothing. His best years were in Florida. Maybe he should go back there and see if he can resurrect his career because I sure don’t want him in Music City.

07. Alexei Ponikarovsky – Left Wing — SIGNED WITH LOS ANGELES (7/27)
Now here’s someone the Predators will at least entertain. At the trade deadline this past March, Nashville fans everywhere were hoping Poile would trade for the big Russian winger. He’s proven he can put up 60 points on a horrible team and he’s got the size and playing style the Predators love. Also, Nashville needs a left winger in particular. They’ve needed one since Alexander Radulov defected to Russia two years ago. “Poni” would give them just that and could flourish wearing a Preds sweater. If they can keep his price tag the same ($2.5 million), this should be a no-brainer.

08. Alex Tanguay – Left Wing — SIGNED WITH CALGARY (7/1)
Didn’t we just talk about this? Oh yeah, a year ago. Well, let’s go ahead and talk about it again. It was thought that Tanguay could revitalize his career in Tampa as he’d be skating with Vincent Lacavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, three guys that can make anyone more productive. Unless you’re Tanguay, apparently. The 30-year old winger had his worst offensive season (37 points) while being supported by that kind of talent. Not a good sign if you come to a team with David Legwand and Martin Erat as your linemates. And at $2.5 million? No thanks.

09. Matt Cullen – Center — SIGNED WITH MINNESOTA (7/1)
Cullen is a guy who consistently gives you 45 points per season, but he’s also a guy who’s made $2.87 million a year the past three years. That right there rules him out of the equation. Also, he’s a center and we’ve already talked about that. But, if you want more reasons, he’s 33 years old, he’s on the decline and he’s only score 20 goals once. Not exactly the kind of guy David Poile and the Predators are looking for. Legwand should give you that same kind of production and there are a couple young guys who will in time so bringing Cullen in just doesn’t make sense. Pass.

10. Paul Kariya – Left Wing
Is he the same player he was 5 years ago? No. But what he still is (amazingly enough) is a 0.75 point-per-game guy who knows Trotz’s system and who can mentor the young  guys who might need a little bit more time to develop into full-time NHLers. Kariya is a supreme passer and a gifted playmaker, even at 35 years old. Furthermore, he shouldn’t command anywhere near to the $6 million a season he’s been making in St. Louis. If the Preds can get him for $2.5 million or less, a fan favorite could be back. Just don’t expect him to post 85 points like he did in 2005-06. That’s an unfair expectation given his age.

So now we sit and wait. Is there anyone on that list of 10, or maybe someone that didn’t make the list, that you’d like to see don a Predators sweater on opening night? Leave your suggestions, ideas and choices in the comment section!