THW’s Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft: Predators Trade Ekholm, Lose Johansen

In the THW Ultimate Mock Expansion draft, Tony Wolak assembled a group of managers to act as the GMs for our respective franchises. As the manager for the Predators, I had to make some tough judgment calls, assess the market for trade options, and try not to lose another top goal scorer to an expansion team. In the end, the Predators lost top-line centre Ryan Johansen, but that was by design, and there were many decisions made that led to the selection.

Ryan Johansen Nashville Predators
Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Predators are in a very unique situation as possibly the only team with five defencemen that they want to and should protect. Only the New York Islanders used this approach for the Vegas Expansion draft.

The goalie and forward selections for the Predators are fairly straightforward as well after the Viktor Arvidsson trade. This process started back in June, though, before the Arvidsson trade occurred, and with the playoff loss a little more fresh in the mind. Things have settled to an extent, and the picture is much clearer now than it was even one month ago. With less than two weeks until the final expansion draft selections are revealed, it is now a little easier to get inside the head of David Poile to determine what direction the Predators may take in the expansion draft.

Planning the Protection List

Coming into the exercise in mid-June, the list of players worthy of protection by Nashville and selection by Seattle looked like this:

Forward (9): Filip Forsberg, Victor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, Luke Kunin, Mikhael Granlund (UFA), Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Yakov Trenin, Colton Sissons.

Defence (5): Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Alexandre Carrier, Dante Fabbro

Goalie (2): Juuse Saros, Connor Ingram

The Predators have the kind of depth that means they will have to leave some pieces unprotected that would be intriguing for Seattle. They also have a wide range of options in terms of player ages, positions, and contract statuses within those possible selections. Depending on how the Predators want to move forward, either a large contract would be taken off of the books (Johansen or Duchene), or a replaceable depth player would be selected (Trenin or Ingram).

Yakov Trenin Nashville Predators
Yakov Trenin, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Neither of those situations involves losing a defenceman, and that likely means going the route of protecting eight skaters rather than the other option of seven forwards and three defencemen. In order to consider that second option, Carrier would likely have to be exposed, and another defenceman traded (more on that later). Carrier would be an excellent get by Seattle, though, and despite only having 24 regular-season NHL games under his belt, he has proven he is ready for more responsibility.

Possible Side Deals

With the options reviewed, it was time to look into trading around those who would be left exposed and those who would be worthwhile moving out in order to open up a protection slot for someone else.

Viktor Arvidsson

This whole mock expansion process began before general manager David Poile traded Arvidsson to the LA Kings, right out from under my management. What this meant was that there was one less player to have to worry about protecting. Leaving Arvidsson exposed was already something that was being considered, but in gaining a few draft picks for him, Poile did in real life what I could not manage to do in the mock draft, and that was interest anyone in paying for Arvidsson before the expansion draft.

Dante Fabbro

After the emergence of Carrier and Fabbro not being able to impress head coach John Hynes, Fabbro became a realistic name that the Predators might consider shopping. As a young, right-shot defenceman with pedigree and talent at both ends of the ice, teams should be lining up to see if they can add him. Surprisingly, not many teams had interest or room to fit Fabbro into their expansion plans.

Dante Fabbro, Nashville Predators
Dante Fabbro #57 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

However, with the Vegas Golden Knights exempt from the protection & selection process, they might actually make the most sense for a Fabbro deal because they have the right kind of piece the Predators would want in return: Cody Glass. Glass is the kind of dynamic young forward the Predators are trying to add right now, and they could swap a position of strength for a need in this deal, and then with Seattle likely taking a forward off of their books, a spot naturally opens up for Glass to slide right in. Unfortunately, after some positive discussions, the Vegas manager in our exercise went in a different direction, so the Predators had to look elsewhere.

Mattias Ekholm

Ekholm was a frequent name in the NHL rumour mill over the last calendar year, and that’s why I looked into the possibility of moving him in this exercise. With one year left on his current deal and the possibility of a large deal in free agency, it is a very real option for the now 30-year-old to walk next summer. With that in mind, trade talks for him revolved around a controllable young forward plus draft picks. There were a few options that came up, with the three most intriguing scenarios being possible deals with the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers, and the Arizona Coyotes.

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The Philadelphia Flyers have some excellent young forward pieces in their farm system, so they could be a good fit for an Ekholm deal. However, in this scenario, the manager decided to go in a different direction and pursue pending UFA Dougie Hamilton. The New York Rangers manager brought up the idea of swapping Ekholm for Pavel Buchnevich and a pick, which would have been a coup for the Predators. However, once he realized that Ekholm only had one year left on his deal, his interest waned, and there was no deal to be made. With that said, a veteran, minute-munching, left-handed defenceman is exactly what the Rangers need, so don’t be surprised if there is some chatter there through the offseason.

Mattias Ekholm Predators
Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The deal that ended up coming together for our mock expansion draft saw the Predators move Ekholm to Arizona for former first-round pick Barrett Hayton. Hayton is in need of a change of scenery and would be an excellent complementary piece to Philip Tomasino for the future of the Predators down the middle of the ice. The deal allows the Predators to also retain the cost-certainty of Colton Sissons as the last forward protected and gain a few more draft picks on top of everything.

The Final Protection List & Selection

The final protection list would be as follows:

G (1): Juuse Saros
D (4): Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Dante Fabbro, Alexandre Carrier
F (4): Filip Forsberg, Luke Kunin, Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons

Exposed and under contract: 
F – Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Nick Cousins, Ryan Johansen, Yakov Trenin
D – Mark Borowiecki, Matt Benning
G – Connor Ingram

Exposed RFAs:
F – Rem Pitlick, Anthony Richard, Tanner Jeannot, Michael McCarron
D – Frederic Allard, Josh Healey, Ben Harpur
G – None

Exposed UFAs:
F – Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Brad Richardson, Sean Malone, Michael Carcone
D – Erik Gudbranson, Luca Sbisa, Tyler Lewington
G – Kasimir Kaskisuo

The Seattle GM then approached me about a side deal to add a pick or a prospect to have the team select Ryan Johansen. I knew from previous conversations that he was likely to take Johansen anyways, so I didn’t bite. However, I think David Poile would be willing to make a deal to get that contract off the books. In this exercise, as expected, the Predators lost Johansen.

If a deal is not made, and Seattle does not want to add a larger contract, then the selection would likely come down to Rocco Grimaldi, Yakov Trenin, or Connor Ingram. None of the three would be a huge loss for the Predators, though with Pekka Rinne’s retirement, also losing Ingram would create the need to add a goalie in the offseason. Should the Predators stand pat and leave Sissons exposed as well, he would be an option for Seattle, but again, it’s a loss that the Predators can manage. All-in-all, they now stand in a position to come out of the expansion draft relatively unscathed and possibly with some necessary cap flexibility.

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