OTTAWA -- Skating alongside his former teammate in Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game, Kimmo Timonen said he was gently trying to massage the idea of the Flyers into Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter’s subconscious.
“I told him that Philly is a nice town,” Timonen said with a smile. “He would probably enjoy Philly.”
With exactly 4 weeks until the Feb. 27 trade deadline, no one knows quite what will happen with Suter in Nashville - who is easily the biggest name atop the pending unrestricted free agents list this year.
Suter, 27, is in the final season of a 4-year, $14 million deal. He has played all 7 years of his standout career in the Music City, where the 2010 Olympian has blossomed into a big money blueliner alongside Shea Weber.
Like almost every other team in the league, it is no secret that Suter would be No. 1 on their list if he were to be available via trade before the deadline.
In Ottawa, Suter came out at Friday’s Media Day and announced for the first time that he would not be signing a new extension with the Predators before the trading deadline so that he could focus on the season at hand.
On the surface, Suter’s interesting announcement would seem to suggest that he would be available before the deadline. Surely, Nashville wouldn’t want to lose his services without getting at least something in return before he is able to walk on July 1, right?
In reality, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Word circulating through the general manager’s ranks is that Suter will be kept off the market.
“The consensus among us is that Nashville will be hanging onto him, even if they know the odds are not in their favor of re-signing him,” one Eastern Conference GM told the Daily News on condition of anonymity. “If he does decide to trade him, [David] Poile has the market cornered. There are very few defensemen of Suter’s caliber in the league and Nashville has two of them.
“You have to wonder whether the Predators can continue to trade away their top players for prospects because they can’t afford to pay them.”
Poile’s problem is that the small-market Predators - who won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history last season - can’t convince their growing fanbase that they’re gunning for a Stanley Cup if Suter is traded before the deadline. Nashville begins the second half just 4 points out of first place in the West.
Suter, a 2010 Olympic Silver medalist with the U.S., will command somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million per season - whether the Predators give it to him or not.
Now, Poile - who is the son of the late, former Flyers general manager Bud Poile - will need to convince Suter that he has the spending power to pay both himself and restricted free agent Weber. A report from ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun says Poile has been given permission from Nashville ownership to spend to the top of the salary cap for next season.
Just signing Suter and Weber to new deals, since Weber already makes $7.5 million this season, would likely get the Predators to the spending limit. They are in the bottom 5 among payrolls this season.
Poile is in a no-lose situation. If he keeps Suter at the deadline, he will earn equity from his fanbase and even Suter, as a display of his commitment to keeping him. If Suter walks on July 1 for more money, he will do so with Poile having done everything under his power to sign him. And if Suter signs a new deal, the Predators will remain as one of the top teams in the league with a powerful core of Weber, Suter and goaltender Pekka Rinne leading them for the foreseeable future.
In their current state, the Predators are just a forward or two away from being serious title contenders.
Should Suter hit the open market in July, the Flyers would likely be front-runners for his services. Even if the salary cap does not increase from $64.3 million with the impending labor negotiations, the Flyers would have more than enough cap space for a monster deal if Chris Pronger remains on the long-term injury list and Matt Carle does not re-sign.
Timonen, now 36, can empathize with his former teammate’s predicament. He was in Suter’s shoes, in the same situation in 2007. Poile kept him at the trade deadline, the Predators finished with 110 points, and the cash-strapped franchise traded both Timonen and Scott Hartnell to the Flyers on June 18, 2007 because they couldn't afford them.
Timonen signed a 6-year, $38 million deal, one that makes him the highest-paid Finnish player in the NHL, which expires after next season. Hartnell signed a 6-year, $25.5 million deal.
Five years later, things are different in Nashville. And if Poile really does have a green light to spend the green, Suter’s run doesn’t have to end the same way.
“He’s going to take his time and see what’s going to happen,” Timonen said. “If he gets the money he wants, obviously he will stay there. You don’t know what’s going to happen, how much they’re going to spend, if they want to keep both of those two guys. He’s been there so long, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t want to stay there.”
SLAP SHOTS: The Flyers resume practice on Monday at 2 o'clock in Voorhees ... Harry Zolnierczyk, Ben Holmstrom and Tom Sestito were recalled from the Phantoms on Sunday. They played 3 games in the AHL during the NHL's All-Star break. It remains to be seen what kind of role they will play after injured forwards Jaromir Jagr (groin), James van Riemsdyk (concussion), and Danny Briere (concussion) had a chance to rest up during the break ... Michael Leighton will start for the Eastern Conference in the AHL's All-Star Game at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall on Monday night ... Claude Giroux will be honored as Philadelphia's Athlete of the Year by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association on Monday night.
FURTHER READING: Claude Giroux's All-Star weekend in his quasi-hometown of Ottawa in Monday's Daily News.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers