Predicting the Predators’ Expansion Draft Protections

David Poile, Nashville Predators, Pekka Rinne, Seattle Expansion

Seattle will be the 32nd franchise in the NHL, that much we know. So, with that being said, it’s not too early to start thinking of the players that Nashville Predators general manager David Poile should protect from Seattle’s expansion draft, which is set for June 2021.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, center left, holds a jersey after the NHL Board of Governors announced Seattle as the league’s 32nd franchise. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

The last time the Predators went through an expansion draft, there were not that many surprises. The biggest news was who the Predators lost. The Vegas Golden Knights selected James Neal, who didn’t have a bad season since joining the Predators back in 2014, recording three straight years with 23 goals or more. They elected to keep Calle Jarnkrok, despite him recording significantly fewer points during the same time Neal was a Predator. But, Poile protected the young Swede because of his face-off abilities and his reliability on the penalty kill.

Flashback to the 2017 Expansion Draft

During Vegas’ expansion draft, the Predators chose the route of protecting eight skaters and one goalie, those being:

  • Filip Forsberg
  • Ryan Johansen
  • Viktor Arvidsson
  • Calle Jarnkrok
  • Roman Josi
  • Ryan Ellis
  • P.K. Subban
  • Mattias Ekholm
  • Pekka Rinne

Some fans were skeptical of letting Neal go because of the goal scoring ability he has, something the Predators were not overly used to. Although Neal did not have his best season in Calgary it doesn’t mean that he is on the downslide. Who knows whether Neal would still be on his impressive 20-goal per season streak if he had remained in Nashville’s or Vegas’ system.

Nashville Predators center Calle Jarnkrok
Nashville Predators center Calle Jarnkrok (Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports)

Jarnkrok doesn’t seem like the player who will challenge Neal’s goal-scoring proficiency. But, it’s Jarnkrok’s contract that makes the selection the right choice, which is being proven now more than ever. Neal commands over $5.75 million average annual value (AAV) on his current contract, Jarnkrok has a super team-friendly $2 million AAV. With the Predators scrambling to make cap-space recently, letting Neal go should not be questioned.

Let’s Do It All over Again

Now, it’s almost time to do it all over again, so do the Predators make similar decisions or change their game plan completely?

Seattle will have the same rules that Vegas did a few years ago. Teams will have two options for whom they can protect: seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie.

Last time around, the Predators had the benefit of automatic protection for budding stars like Dante Fabbro and Jusse Saros due to the rule that states: “All first- and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward protection limits).”

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros
Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (AP Photo/John Locher)

However, by the time Seattle’s expansion draft rolls around in 2021, several of the young players exempt from Vegas’ draft will now be available. Considering the Predators’ roster personnel, it seems wise that Poile sticks with the same option of protecting eight skaters and one goalie.

With that being said, let’s look at the projected protection list:

  • Arvidsson
  • Matt
    Duchene
  • Forsberg
  • Johansen
  • Ekholm
  • Ellis
  • Fabbro
  • Josi
  • Saros

This list looks fairly similar to the protections in 2017. Like most teams, the Predators will look to keep their core together, which is arguably seen as the JOFA line and league-envied defensive corps. Poile doesn’t need to worry about protecting star defenseman P.K. Subban obviously, but that spot is now occupied by Fabbro. With how well the Coquitlam native played in his first season of action, he showed too much upside to risk losing him to Seattle, who would surely love to acquire a defenseman with the capability of developing into a franchise player.

Related: Seattle Mock Expansion Draft: Win Now Team

Who Gets Left Off?

In 2017, the Predators had the luxury of protecting Rinne as well as Saros because he was ineligible for selection. As mentioned, Saros will have to be included on Nashville’s protection list if they want to keep Seattle from selecting the young goaltender. However, the decision of whether to save Rinne or Saros may not be as difficult as it seems right now. It is no secret that the Predators have been grooming Saros to become the starter someday and that day seems to be getting closer and closer, it would make no sense to risk losing him now.

Pekka Rinne Craig Smith Justin Dowling
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

As it currently stands Rinne’s contract will expire after the 2020-21 season. Therefore, if Rinne continues to strap on the pads when Seattle is competing in the league, he would need a new deal. The 36-year-old doesn’t exactly look like he’s slowing down, and it’s not outrageous to think that the 2018 Vezina winner will play into his 40s.

At this point, it would be a shame for Rinne not to finish his career in Nashville considering everything he has done for the franchise and accomplished with the Predators. If the Kempele, Finland native were to be awarded another contract to keep him in Nashville past 2021, Poile would have to conduct a risk assessment. Would Seattle want to use their selection from the Predators on a would-be 39-year-old goalie? The answer is most likely ‘no.’ The Golden Knights selected a veteran goaltender when they took Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Fleury was 32 at the time.

Related: Seattle Mock Expansion Draft: Best Players Available

It’s
important to note that the contingency plan for keeping Rinne with the franchise
assumes that the Predators’ starter would want to play during the 2021-22
season and possibly beyond.

It’s a no brainer that the Predators should protect Saros. However, management and fans should not stress about possibly losing the player who has arguably been the Predators’ most valuable over the past several years, which is obviously referring to Rinne.

Notable Exposed Players

Over the years the Predators have stacked their roster with many talented players in order to become a contending team; talent that would be unfortunate to lose. Some of the players who would be exposed would be Mikael Granlund, Colton Sissons, Kyle Turris and Jarnkrok, to name a few. Sissons and Jarnkrok have very team-friendly deals, which could make them highly appealing to Seattle.

Nashville Predators Mikael Granlund
Nashville Predators center Mikael Granlund (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Jarnkrok and Sissons may be too good for Seattle’s GM, Ron Francis, to pass on, especially when combining their skill and their deals. However, Seattle must be conscious of selecting players who have “an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100 percent of the prior season’s upper limit for the salary cap.”

Taking on a few “expensive” contracts will be necessary for Seattle to satisfy the expansion rules, which means Turris may look more enticing. After all, for as much criticism Turris has received recently, he’s no slouch as a centerman and his $6 million cap hit could be useful when trying to reach the cap floor.

Now, Seattle may not come away with the same haul of talent that Vegas did during their expansion draft because GMs have learned what they should and probably shouldn’t do again.

Kyle Turris Predators
Nashville Predators center Kyle Turris (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

But, the one thing that is certain is that each team will lose something, the goal is to lose as little as possible. Poile was unable to make a deal with then-Golden Knights GM, George McPhee, to steer the them away from Neal and that may be the case again with Francis. Turris would be a valuable player for Seattle, and, in turn, could help Nashville by removing his contract from their books. If the Predators lost either Jarnkrok or Sissons it would undoubtedly sting, but the team could survive. It may not be worth Poile handing over future talent to deter Seattle from picking value-for-money type players such as Austin Watson, Sissons or Jarnkrok.

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