There have been a lot of high expectations of the Nashville Predators since they made their first Stanley Cup Final in 2017. Unfortunately, the team has struggled to advance past the second round of playoffs over the last three seasons. Although the team had led into the 2019-20 season in “win now” mode, the season turned into a significant step back. In that season, they had the lowest point percentage (56%) compared to the previous six seasons, and they failed to make it out of the qualifying round in the playoffs when they lost to the Arizona Coyotes.

The Predators did not change their roster too much during the offseason, implying that they still believe in their core group of players to hopefully get them back to the Stanley Cup Final. During the offseason, the Predators did make one trade, acquiring 22-year-old forward Luke Kunin from the Minnesota Wild for 32-year-old veteran Nick Bonino. The only other significant roster change this offseason was losing forward Craig Smith via Free Agency.

Assumptions

There are no significant pending free agents to extend into next season. Career Predator, Pekka Rinne, is on the last year of his contract but at 38 years old 2019-20 was his worst season in the NHL so an extension seems unlikely.

Nashville Roster Wildcards

Nashville is in a good position when it comes to salary cap compliance, but they do have a few big, long-term contracts in Ryan Johansen at $8M/year through 2024-25 and Matt Duchene at $8M/year through 2025-26. Considering their current output, those two contracts look fine right now, but both of those players will be over 30 at the tail end of their contracts when their salaries might seem expensive for a downturn in expected output for their age.

Nashville could approach the Expansion Draft as an opportunity to shed one of those contracts by exposing one of them in the Expansion Draft. Seattle will have a very hard time not selecting Johansen or Duchene if left exposed due to their immediate contributions. For now, we will project them as protected.

Predators Protected List

For the 2017 Expansion Draft, Nashville protected four forwards, four defensemen, and one goalie (4-4-1) as opposed to the seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie (7-3-1) option that was much more common.

They protected defensemen Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and PK Subban. Since then, Subban was traded to the New Jersey Devils and 22-year-old Dante Fabbro is now emerging as the future of the blueline in Nashville. It is possible that Nashville protects Ekholm, Ellis, Josi and Fabbro, if they stick with the 4-4-1 option. But we think that is unlikely because they have more than four promising forwards that they’ll want to protect, so we are predicting that they will go with the 7-3-1 approach.

Forwards:

The only pure lock we see at forward is Filip Forsberg. Duchene & Johansen are pretty close to locks as well, but like we mentioned above, they each carry a heavy annual salary ($8M/each) at a time where salary cap space is hard to come by. It would require a decent drop-off in production from either of those guys to imagine they could be exposed.

After those three, Nashville has a productive group of forwards in Victor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, Rocco Grimaldi, and Colton Sissons. Our estimate is that the Preds protect only two of these four to make sure they also protect some of the younger, up-and-coming players listed below. Arvidsson is top of that list, but after that, it is probably a coin flip between Grimaldi and Jarnkrok. As it stands today, Sound Of Hockey would protect Jarnkrok, but the final decision will come down to how these guys play during the upcoming season.

To round out the forwards, the Predators will probably protect two of their sub-23-year-old players that are expansion eligible. Newly acquired Kunin feels like a safe bet to be protected, and we would add the young Russian playmaker, Yakov Trenin to the list as well.

Projected Protected:

  • Filip Forsberg (Lock)
  • Matt Duchene (Close to a Lock)
  • Ryan Johansen (Close to a Lock)
  • Victor Arvidsson
  • Calle Jarnkrok (or Rocco Grimaldi)
  • Luke Kunin
  • Yakov Trenin

Defense:

Defense is much more straight forward with Josi and Ellis being locks and the younger Fabbro the probable last one protected over an older Ekholm.

Projected Protected:

  • Roman Josi (Lock)
  • Ryan Ellis (Lock)
  • Dante Fabbro (Probable)

Goalie:

The goalie situation looks straight forward as well. Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne shared the net last year with roughly a 50% split of games. Rinne is 38 and will probably serve as the back-up to the much younger Saros (25) this coming season. Meanwhile, a 23-year-old Connor Ingram will spend another season in the minors.

It is theoretically possible that Nashville protects Connor Ingram and exposes Juuse Saros since Nashville’s future goalie is Iaroslav Askarov, but he will not be available for at least two seasons as he completes his contractual obligations in Russia.

Projected Protected:

  • Juuse Saros

Nashville Expansion Draft Candidates

Forwards

  • Rocco Grimaldi
  • Colton Sissons
  • Anthony Richard
  • Rem Pitlick
  • Tanner Jeannot

Defense

  • Mattias Ekholm
  • Frederic Allard

Goalie

  • Connor Ingram

Seattle will have decent options at all posititons in Nashville. Jarnkrok/Grimaldi/Sissons can probably step right into a top-six role on an expansion team while Richard/Pitlick/Jeannot might be picks for the future and frankly might not pan out.
Ekholm can step right into a top-four defense role while Allard might be a bet on the future.
Connor Ingram at 23 would be a good option to be the Kraken’s back-up goalie in year one with a projection to be penciled in as the starting netminder in year two or three.

Nashville Side Deal Scenarios

At this point, any side deal with Nashville seems possible. They are facing some exposure of some decent players and with that exposure comes opportunity. There could be a scenario where Nashville offers a draft pick in compensation for Seattle not selecting Grimaldi or Ekholm.