The Nashville Predators are entering the most important few weeks of their offseason in what might be their most important offseason in many years.

Pekka Rinne has retired. Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen have massive contracts that inhibit the team’s ability to build a contender. They have eight picks in the 2021 NHL Draft, including four picks in the top 100. And they have only 14 roster spots currently signed, needing at least a dozen more.

But the most pressing issue at hand is the Seattle Expansion Draft, which takes place next Wednesday, July 21st. The Seattle Kraken will poach exactly one player (no more, no less) from the Nashville Predators on that date.

The Predators (and every other team in the league) must submit their protection lists to the league by this Saturday, July 17th at 4 p.m. EST. The protection list rules are the same as they were in 2017 with Vegas. The Preds may opt to keep either:

  • 7 forwards + 3 defenseman + 1 goaltender

OR

  • 8 skaters (forwards/defensemen) + 1 goaltender

So what might their protection list look like? Which option will they choose? Who will be protected? Who will be left unprotected?

Preds will most likely choose eight skater option

Based on the Preds’ moves so far, including trading Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings, there’s a very good chance David Poile will opt to keep eight skaters as opposed to seven forwards/three defensemen. Why? Because of the superior value of their defense as compared to their forwards.

Looking at the Preds roster, it is difficult to name seven forwards that the Preds should protect out of fear of them being selected by Seattle. Filip Forsberg has a year left on his contract and is the Preds’ most dangerous offensive weapon. He will be protected. Colton Sissons’ team friendly contract has five years left, so he’s probably protected as well. Calle Jarnkrok and Luke Kunin are options as well, both for their versatility, production, and low cap hit.

But Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene both have contracts that David Poile would love to remove from the books. Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula are pending UFA’s. If Seattle were to negotiate a contract with them (which they can do between 7/18 and 7/21) that would count as a selection in the draft, but that’s highly unlikely. The rest of the forward group available to be selected would be Yakov Trenin, Rem Pitlick, Tanner Jeannot, Rocco Grimaldi, Anthony Richard, plus a couple others. Eeli Tolvanen is exempt, so he does not need to be protected.

Now compare that to the list of defensemen the Preds must protect.

Roman Josi is an automatic selection, both because of his no move clause and because of his elite value to the team. Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are as close to automatic protection options as well.

Then there’s a fork the road: do they protect Alexandre Carrier or Dante Fabbro? Fabbro is only 23 years old and although he hasn’t developed quite like the Preds would have hoped, he’s still a future talent worth holding onto. Alex Carrier was excellent in a top four role in down the stretch last season and into the playoffs, with many saying he has passed Fabbro in his development.

But what’s that Yogi Berra quote about what to do when you come to a fork in the road?

Take it.

The Preds should protect both Carrier and Fabbro, protecting five defensemen and three forwards under the eight skaters option. The bottom line is that Carrier and Fabbro are both more valuable than any of the other forwards they could protect.

Who will Seattle take from the Preds?

Someone from the Preds is going to the Seattle Kraken. There’s nothing David Poile can do about that. He can negotiate with Seattle’s General Manager Ron Francis to entice them to select a particular player by trading draft capital or prospects, but there’s no guarantee there. Francis holds the leverage, just as George McPhee did in 2017 with Vegas.

Given the above reasoning, here’s what the Preds protection list could look like on July 17th at 4 p.m.:

-Eight skaters option-

  • Filip Forsberg (F)
  • Colton Sissons (F)
  • Luke Kunin (F)
  • Roman Josi (D)
  • Ryan Ellis (D)
  • Mattias Ekholm (D)
  • Alexandre Carrier (D)
  • Dante Fabbro (D)
  • Juuse Saros (G)

Going with five defensemen and three forwards says a lot about where the Preds’ forward core is at right now. It’s not in a good place. But this is the best option for David Poile: ensuring he can keep cost friendly contracts like Sissons and Kunin on the books, while perhaps convincing Seattle to take the Johansen or Duchene contracts.

But I don’t think Seattle will do that.

Seattle will likely follow Vegas’s model from 2017: building up as much draft and prospect capital as possible while also building a team of versatile, underutilized, low cost players that are eager to prove themselves. They will be looking for inexpensive talent that they build into an immediate contender, while also not mortgaging their future on high cost players.

I think Seattle will end up taking Calle Jarnkrok.

Jarnkrok is 29 years old, coming off a career high in points per game, and is owed only $2 million for the 2021-22 season. He can play effectively at center and wing. He can play on the power play and the penalty kill. He plays a great defensive game. His career 11.7% shooting percentage is mostly a product of him being very selective in shooting, but that’s a solid goal scoring rate for a two-way player.

If Seattle doesn’t want Jarnkrok (or if Poile protects him over Kunin), they would likely select one of the Preds’ explosive young forwards from last year: Luke Kunin, Yakov Trenin, Tanner Jeannot, or Rem Pitlick. Any one of those forwards would be a significant loss for Nashville, but therein lies the pain of the expansion draft.

— Featured image via James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports —