The playoffs have begun. The now summer showdown between four teams in every division means that the end is near. There is a light at the end of the tunnel that represents the offseason. With the offseason comes expansion. It isn’t an expansion of the rules or expansion of the nets, but instead, expansion of teams. This summer, the NHL will hold an expansion draft for the newest franchise to be added to the list, the Seattle Kraken.
With their first-ever player signed, uniforms chosen, front office positions beginning to fill up, and coaches being interviewed, all that is left to happen is drafting a player from each NHL franchise except the Vegas Golden Knights. The Nashville Predators have some exciting choices to make to prepare for this draft, and it won’t be long before those choices begin to become more and more transparent.
Many hypothetical scenarios are surrounding this draft in particular, just as there was with the Knights draft. Will Seattle take a look at Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks? Will Chris Driedger become their future goalie? Do Brayden Holtby or Jonathan Quick get picked up from their respective teams? As members of the hockey world, they’re all ideas we have heard being thrown around this year. However, the Predators specifically are in an interesting situation of their own. They have some questions to answer and scenarios I’ll go over in this article that has been rumored since the puck dropped on the 2020-21 season.
Matt Duchene or Ryan Johansen Are Exposed
Anyone who remotely follows the Predators’ situation knows that Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene are overpaid. They’re vastly underperforming the contracts given to them by general manager David Poile at $8 million per year. With the Predators seemingly going into a decline and slowly moving towards rebuild mode, is it possible we see him expose one of his top two centers in the hopes of clearing cap space? Considering they have $2 million wrapped up in Kyle Turris’ buyout until 2027-28, some cap relief may not be the worst option.
A pricey side deal with Kraken general manager Ron Francis would be the way to get Johansen’s contract off the books. As much as everyone loves him and his flamboyant personality, he may have to be the one that goes. Duchene has much less luck in terms of fan perception. He came in with high expectations after putting up a 70 point season, albeit backed by some unsustainable shooting numbers.
Duchene has been underwhelming on the scoresheet, but I don’t believe it is indicative of his actual play. Many of his problems have stemmed from coaching, mostly having to do with line combinations and ice time. No, Brad Richardson and playing 10 to 11 minutes a night will not get the job done in production.
Over his career as a professional, Duchene has shown that he needs to play top minutes with top guys to produce. He even showed it in game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes. Due to an injury to Viktor Arvidsson, Duchene was elevated to the first line to play with Filip Forsberg and Johansen. He was skating like his boots were on fire and were one of the better players in terms of possession and expected goal metrics. He was everywhere on the ice, and he capped the fantastic night off by scoring a double-overtime winner.
He showcased what he could do with great players at the beginning of the 2019-20 season. Former head coach Peter Laviolette put Forsberg and Mikael Granlund on his wings, and they were one of the top producing lines for the period they were together. Duchene was, at one point, leading the NHL in points despite not scoring a goal. However, they were broken up after Forsberg went down with an injury, and for whatever reason, they weren’t put back together for a long enough time to establish chemistry.
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The fact of the matter is Duchene and Johansen are a heavy burden on the salary cap. If Poile has the chance to offload one, however unlikely that may be, he should take advantage of the opportunity. It’s not every day that you get to get rid of an $8 million contract.
Viktor Arvidsson Is Exposed
Another big name within the Predators organization could be gone by the time the expansion draft roles around. However, in this instance, it would be a bit easier to find a deal. Arvidsson’s recent 30-goal season has made him well known around the league. The problem is he has fallen back down to earth, and it seems as if teams around the NHL have begun to figure him out. While his contract at $4.25 million is definitely not one of concern like Johansen’s or Duchene’s, his play has slowly started to deteriorate. He doesn’t have the best hockey IQ, and his injuries have derailed a lot of potential production. It also doesn’t help that his shooting percentages have been somewhat lower as of late, resulting in a shortage of goals.
It has been tough to watch Arvidsson’s slow fall from grace. However, it’s one that most probably could have predicted if they looked at the correct numbers and watched the games. He regressed to the mean as expected. He’s a volume shooter and one that typically relies on low-danger chances from the outside. A couple of seasons ago, we’d often see him attacking the front of the net. However, two cross-checks to the back from Robert Bortuzzo later, he seems hesitant to go anywhere near the blue paint. It’s a recipe for disaster and one that the Predators don’t need to be brewing if they want another shot at the Stanley Cup. If you want to read more about why Arvidsson being exposed could be a good thing, check out my colleague Alex MacLean’s article here.
Calle Jarnkrok Is Exposed
Calle Jarnkrok burst onto the scene this past season. He was tied for the team lead in goals, with Granlund at 13 and third in points at 28. He was elevated to the top of the lineup this season and was able to showcase his capabilities. He was one of the more consistent scorers at the start of the season and continued to be an offensive threat even when the point-scoring started to wane. Furthermore, he put himself into Selke trophy talks, as he played some of the best defense in the entire NHL. Among forwards with a minimum even-strength ice time of 600 minutes, Jarnkrok played 10th in expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) per Evolving-Hockey. The stat is a measure of how much a certain player is allowing high-danger chances. Essentially, Jarnkrok didn’t allow any at all.
The problem here lies in the approach that Poile is most likely to take. With his recent slew of bad moves, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him protect players that might not necessarily be the best option. The most likely scenario is a four-forward, four-defense, and one-goalie protection method, which he used for the Golden Knights expansion draft. He may protect all three of Johansen, Duchene, and Arvidsson with Forsberg as his forwards, which leaves Jarnkrok out to dry. Jarnkrok’s abilities are nothing to be scoffed at, and not protecting him could prove to be detrimental to the lineup’s depth shortly.
There are plenty of roads that the front office could choose to go down, all of which have their respective pros and cons. However, the one thing everyone can understand is this expansion is extremely wide open. There are many options for teams to choose from and even more routes for the Kraken to take.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, Broad Street Hockey, Hockey Wilderness, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.