The NHL made the next round of expansion official today, voting to add a team in Seattle starting in 2021. Division realignment was also a part of that vote, with the board of governors voting to move the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division. With Seattle in the Pacific, this would make four equal divisions of eight teams each.
So how might this affect the Nashville Predators?
In addition to having a new division rival in Arizona (and a lot more travel miles to go with it), the Predators are destined to lose another player to another expansion team.
The league has not made the official expansion draft rules available, but Commissioner Gary Bettman has indicated that the rules for Seattle in 2021 will be the same as they were for Vegas in 2017.
So, assuming that’s true, here’s a refresher:
- Each NHL team can protect either 8 total skaters or 7 forwards and 3 defensemen.
- Each NHL team must protect at least one goalie.
- They must protect any players with a no-movement/no-trade clause in their contract (or that player must agree to waive the clause).
- All first-year and second-year players are exempt, as are unsigned draft picks.
With that in mind, here’s who the Predators might protect and who they might lose to the expansion draft in 2021.
Keep in mind, we are three years away from this mess. A whole lot can happen between now and then. Trades, drop off in production, contract disputes, fire sales, etc., all of that can change the outlook below.
The Predators got off easy on this one. Since the expansion draft will be in 2021, Pekka Rinne’s new extension will expire and he will be an unrestricted free agent. Juuse Saros will likely be the only option for the Predators to protect at that point.
They will protect Juuse Saros and probably either negotiate a new contract for Rinne after the draft or look elsewhere.
Let’s start with the toughest assignment: I think there is no way the Predators can go the “8 skaters” route this time around. They have too many good forwards signed to long term contracts. They will almost certainly have to go the “7 skaters, 3 defensemen” route given their current roster construction.
With only three defensemen to protect, the Preds will most likely have to split up their top four, unless they can make a trade to convince Seattle not to take the 4th defensemen.
A lot depends on if/when the team signs Roman Josi to a contract extension before his deal runs out in 2020. P.K. Subban (2022), Ryan Ellis (2027), and Mattias Ekholm (2022) all have deals that run through 2021. Given that, here are the two options:
- If Josi signs an extension past 2021: the Preds protect Subban, Ellis, and Josi
- If Josi doesn’t sign an extension past 2021: the Preds protect Subban, Ellis, and Ekholm
I’ll add that if the first scenario occurs, I think David Poile definitely makes a trade to try and protect Mattias Ekholm. If he signs Josi to an extension, he is doubling down on keeping the four defensemen around for as long as possible. An expansion draft won’t stop him this time.
The Preds will have likely have a lot more eligible forwards worth keeping around in 2021 than they did in 2017. But they will also have more protection slots open if they go with the 7-3 option this time around.
First, the no doubters. The Preds will protect Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Kyle Turris. These four players are the core of the top six and are signed through 2021. No way these players will be unprotected, barring some massive drop in production or a trade elsewhere.
Then there’s Calle Jarnkrok, who will be entering the last year of his cap friendly deal. Since they protected him last time around, they probably protect Jarnkrok again. Again, unless his production drops, the Preds like what Jarnkrok brings to their center depth.
That leaves two more spots available. There’s a lot that can happen between now and then, but I think those spots go to Eeli Tolvanen (who will be in his third year and thus not exempt) and Kevin Fiala.
This would leave the following forwards unprotected, none of which are currently signed through 2021:
- Ryan Hartman
- Craig Smith
- Austin Watson
- Colton Sissons
- Nick Bonino
- Miikka Salomaki
- Frederick Gaudreau
- Rocco Grimaldi
- Zac Rinaldo
Again, it is very likely that most of these players are not even a part of the Predators by the time 2021 rolls around. Bonino is a UFA in 2021. Smith, Watson, Salomaki, and Gaudreau are UFAs in 2020. The rest are 2019 and most are RFAs. It’s hard to see a scenario where the Predators re-sign most of those players anyway, especially if they are just around to get snatched up by Seattle.
You can also add to that list the remainder of the defense, whoever that may be. None of the other four defensemen on the roster currently are signed beyond 2020.
Yes, it’s early, but who gets taken?
The most likely candidate to be selected by Seattle in 2021, assuming he is signed to a long term deal after this year and assuming the bulk of the roster remains the same over the next two years, is Ryan Hartman. He would be a very attractive forward candidate for a growing expansion team and will likely be on a cheap contract.
If it isn’t Hartman, then it’s possibly one of the 2020 UFA’s they end up re-signing (Smith or Watson probably). Or it could be someone not even currently on the roster. There are two more free agency periods until 2021, so it’s possible Poile signs someone to an expansion friendly deal that they don’t mind letting Seattle take. Or Poile makes a trade in the near future with the expansion draft in mind.
We are two and half years away from this expansion draft. There’s probably a million “what ifs” we could imagine along the way. But assuming nothing major changes in the meantime, I’d say the Nashville Predators are in a good position from a roster construction stand point. They should be able to avoid a major disaster in 2021.
— Contract numbers via Cap Friendly. Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —