The 2016-2017 season for the Nashville Predators was an incredible year to remember, to say the least. The season had it all. It began with a blockbuster trade last off-season to acquire P.K. Subban, included the emergence of a number of young players, and ended with a historic and Cinderella postseason.
After 82 games, the Predators managed to sneak into the playoffs as the 8th seed and thus started with them ousting the dominant, and always Stanley Cup favourites, Chicago Blackhawks in four games.The Predators great playoff play continued and carried the team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first in franchise history. Although the team didn’t win, it was still an incredible season. As all good things come to an end and focus shifts from the past to the present, the Nashville Predators writers here at Last Word on Hockey have come together to form a round table discussion to talk about and debate, the upcoming expansion draft.
Last Word Roundtable: Nashville Predators Expansion Draft
Should the Nashville Predators protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender; or should they protect eight skaters and one goalie?
Matt Vocino: In my opinion, the best course of action for David Poile and the Predators is to protect eight skaters and one goaltender. When looking at the make-up of the Predators roster, it is clear that their biggest strength is on the blue line. With that being said, by protecting eight skaters, the Nashville Predators will be able to protect more assets that are key to the teams success. This course of action will essentially allow the organization to protect their top four defensemen while still having the ability to protect a number of vital forwards.
Zach Oswanski: The best route for the Predators hinges on a couple of different factors. Mike Fisher must decide whether he will retire or keep playing. However, he is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, so it would make no sense for Vegas to take him anyway. He is safe to be left unprotected. It would be a hard pill to swallow in exposing two additional players, but Nashville has to decide whether they are comfortable with exposing one of their top four defensemen. My hunch is no, especially given the performance we just saw from Mattias Ekholm in the Final. As Nashville’s strength is clearly on its blue line, it makes most sense that they protect eight skaters and a goalie.
Nic Hendrickson: I am inclined to agree with both Matt and Zach. With the way the roster looks now, the eight skater route is the best way. Their top four defenseman are more valuable than their fifth, sixth, and seventh forwards on the protection list currently. A viable option, and one I’m sure the organization is already entertaining, would be to trade one of the defenseman for another borderline, or at the level, elite forward to bolster their offensive firepower. If they can do that, the 7-3-1 format would be best, and it would probably even bolster their chances of making a second straight Stanley Cup Final.
Aside from those with a No Movement Clause, who should be protected?
MV: Aside from those players with No Movement Clauses, or those who are excluded from the Expansion Draft, I feel as though the Nashville Predators should most definitely protect the core of their blue line. This will mean that Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Matias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis will be be safe from the draft. For me, I believe this to be an easy decision. However, on the offensive front, decisions become a little bit tougher for the Predators. To start, Ryan Johansen, the Predators number one centre, who recorded 61 points, is definitely not going anywhere. In addition to Johansen, I believe that the Predators will protect Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. Both of whom had breakout seasons and built great chemistry while flanking Johansen. Not to forget, both Arvidsson and Forsberg are young and have a number of solid years ahead of them.
Now, here is where the picture gets a little unclear. Who do the Nashville Predators protect as their fourth forward? Do they go with a younger unproven player or an older proven player who may not be around as long? In the end, I believe the Predators will protect James Neal as their fourth forward. Neal is definitely the best player remaining and he has great offensive numbers, which will continue to help the Predators win now. With this in mind, I still don’t believe he is a shoo-in to be protected as he is a UFA at the conclusion of next season.
ZO: The only player with a no movement clause playing for Nashville is Pekka Rinne, so the Predators hands are not tied like those of Anaheim. With Juuse Saros exempt from the expansion draft, Rinne was going to be protected anyway, so that makes the decision easy for the Predators.
Up front, I would protect Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Calle Jarnkrok. That would leave James Neal exposed, which we’ll touch on later.
This allows the Predators to protect their vital defense core of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Josi, Subban and Ellis are non-negotiables in my mind. Ellis’ contract is ridiculously team-friendly at $2.5 million per year through 2018-19. Josi is signed through 2019-20 for $4 million per, and you don’t trade away Shea Weber for Subban and then lose Subban in the draft. Ekholm has been outstanding for the Predators and is signed through 2021-22 for a very reasonable $3.75 million. With Ekholm, the player and the contract, are simply too valuable to let walk out the door for nothing.
NH: As said above, the eight skaters and one goalie set-up is the current best option for Nashville. The four forwards protected would have to be Johansen, Arvidsson, Forsberg, and I’m with Zach on the fourth being Calle Jarnkrok.
As for the defenseman, that once again is a no-brainer. The one asterisk on all of this is if Nashville decides to deal one of the defenseman, likely Ekholm, and frees up their decision-making process and allows them to get another goalscorer and protect more of the offensive players. Whether they do that or not remains to be seen, so we’ll stick with this set-up for the time being.
If you were David Poile, who would you have the hardest time leaving unprotected?
MV: If I were David Poile, the hardest decision I would have to make would be leaving Calle Jarnkrok unprotected. I believe this would be the hardest decision for a couple reasons. First off, Jankrok is only 25-years old and is entering the prime of his career. Since breaking in to the NHL as a full time player three seasons ago, Jarnkrok’s production has increased each year. This past season he recorded 31 regular season points and added seven more in the postseason. I believe his production will continue to increase, so it makes sense to keep him. Also, Jarnkrok is on a cap friendly contract until the end of the 2022 season, with an annual cap hit of just $2 million dollars. This means he is possibly a piece that the Preds can build around for the future. With these two things in mind, I think it will be a tough pill to swallow leaving him unprotected.
ZO: If I’m Poile, I also have a very hard time letting go of Calle Jarnkrok. He is a versatile player for the Predators, playing primarily a third/second-line center role. He is also crazy cheap, as Matt stated. At 25-years old, Jarnkrok will be useful for the Predators throughout the remainder of that contract. This is why I protected him over Neal.
Neal is 29-years old, and signed for another year in Nashville. His $5 million contract off the books would clear room for the Predators to re-sign Arvidsson and Johansen and stay well under the cap-ceiling, at least for next year. While he did score 23 goals this past season, the emergence of draft-exempt players Kevin Fiala, Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg, and AHL player Vladislav Kamenev leads me to believe the Predators could replace Neal’s roughly 20 goals on the wing rather easily.
NH: The toughest decision for Poile and the front office, and something I’ve touched on a few different times, would be to decide on going the eight skaters and one goalie route you’re currently heading down, or whether you decide to part ways with Ekholm or Ellis for another top six forward and go the seven forwards, three defensmen, one goalie route. If it was me in charge, I would try and shop one of those two, but I’m not seeing anything suggesting that at this current time.
Pretending you were George McPhee, who would you select from the Nashville Predators in the expansion draft?
MV: If I were part of the Vegas Golden Knights, It would be a no-brainer to choose Calle Jarnkrok in the draft. He would nicely slot into their top 9, while also being part of the core group that would drive their offence next year. Let us also not forget his lengthy cap friendly contract means that he could be part of the Vegas Golden Knights for a while, without the need to re-sign him. In addition, because his salary is low, the Golden Knights would have more money to spend in free agency, thus building a better team. Quite frankly, Jarnkrok is the best player available for selection.
ZO: If the Predators protect the players I listed above, I am happy selecting James Neal if I’m George McPhee. Neal’s contract is only binding for one year, and he provides 20-plus goals to a new franchise that may be wanting for scoring. His experience in the league also gives Vegas a veteran presence in the locker room to help a club in its forming stages. If McPhee is pleased with Neal’s performance, he can pursue a contract extension after next season. Neal gives Vegas a proven player with flexibility.
NH: Going off the players I protected, the most enticing forward left over is that of James Neal, although I am partial to Kevin Fiala as well, unfortunately Fiala is exempt from selection. Fiala may have only had 16 points in 54 games this season, but his 4.98 Relative Corsi-For percentage, third to only Johansen (7.24) and Arvidsson (5.86), proves that he’s doing all the right things when he’s on the ice. With Fiala being exempt, and Neal still being a solid option, I would have no other option than to take Neal.
All analytics courtesy of Puckalytics.