The season came to an abrupt end in Nashville with Sebastian Aho scoring in the first overtime of their six-game series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Coming into the series, the Nashville Predators were heavy underdogs, but they did manage to make it a respectable series by rallying around the fans at Bridgestone Arena, taking Games 3 and 4. However, it is now time for the franchise to look forward again, and that starts with a critical offseason that will dictate the direction the team takes for the years to come. One decision, specifically surrounding the protection of Viktor Arvidsson in the expansion draft, will be a key indicator of the team’s direction.
For the first half of the season, it seemed as though there was only one clear way forward, with that being a full rebuild after shopping two of the team’s best trade chips in Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm. As we all know, a strong second half thanks to some Vezina-caliber goaltending by Juuse Saros, which led to a playoff berth, meant that there was the thought that this team is not far off from being a real contender.
The reality is that the team is somewhere in the middle, meaning that there is actually a third course that could be charted. The farm system has pieces ready to support the core already in place, and sometimes addition by subtraction is the best way to reconstruct a roster on the fly. Paring down the current lineup to the core, and filling it in with a youth movement would be a smart way to reset without the need for a real rebuild.
These offseason decisions will be centered around three main areas, the amateur draft, the expansion draft, and free agency. In free agency, the Predators stand to lose some of their depth, though with some internal growth, that may not be a bad thing as none of the unrestricted free agents are key pieces — Mikhail Granlund is good, but he is not a key piece. The results of the draft likely won’t be felt for years to come, unless a big trade is made on the (virtual) draft floor. That means, that aside from the usual offseason trade discussions, the expansion draft is where some of the biggest decisions will be made for the immediate future.
The Predators made a splash in 2017 opting to protect youngster Calle Jarnkrok instead of James Neal. Nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight, it looks like a genius move. However, at the time the decision was questioned, but with Neal hitting the age of 30 soon after, and being one of the higher paid Predators at the time, there are a few similarities to draw here to another certain forward. This time around, David Poile has the chance to make a decision equally as bold, but just as rewarding.
Predators Protection List
In net, Saros is a lock to be protected, and exposing Connor Ingram is an easy decision. Moving on, the Predators have an excellent defence core, and the fact that the team held onto Ekholm, in addition to the presence of Ryan Ellis, Dante Fabbro, and Roman Josi, means that the team has to use the eight skater protection option. As a result, there are four slots left to protect a swath of forwards where arguments can be made for as many as eight or nine options.
It is a foregone conclusion that the Predators’ best forward, Filip Forsberg, will be protected; that’s one spot down. Before the year began, it seemed like Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene were set to be protected as well, but some average play in a flat cap era meant that their $8 million cap hits could act as their own kind of deterrents to being selected, and both could be left unprotected in order to save some of the younger players.
Luke Kunin is developing into a key part of the core after being acquired last offseason, while Calle Jarnkrok has cemented himself as a key part of the middle-six since being protected in the Vegas Expansion Draft. Both would be easy selections by Seattle if left exposed, and as a result they need to fill protection slots two and three.
Two members of the famed “Herd Line” are also in the crosshairs, with one of Yakov Trenin and Colton Sissons being the final protected forward. Due to experience and a reasonable contract with term, Sissons will likely make the list above Trenin, who should be able to slip through the expansion draft. What this means, though, is that there is one piece of low hanging fruit left to tempt Seattle, and that is Arvidsson.
Arvidsson to Seattle Is a Win/Win
Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft, Arvidsson has surpassed even the loftiest of expectations from that draft day. However, in the two years since breaking out with 34 goals and 48 points in 58 games three seasons ago, the reality hasn’t been as great as the expectations. The 28-year-old has only paced for a point every-other game in the last two seasons, while struggling to stay healthy, and becoming more and more predictable on the ice. His breakout season was done riding a career highs in shooting percentage, time on ice, and offensive zone starts. He isn’t a top-line forward on a top team, and he is missing the hockey IQ to adapt his game and become the more well-rounded player that the Predators need him to become.
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With a $4.25 million cap hit for the next three seasons, Arvidsson isn’t an anchor on the books by any means. However, for a team like Nashville that won’t be pushing up against a flat cap, and shouldn’t be paying valuable assets to unload one of their more expensive centres, finding savings at a position where they have depth and youth is something to look at seriously as a secondary consideration.
From Seattle’s point of view, the team gets an offensive talent with multiple years of team control, and they can try to put him in positions to succeed that Nashville just wasn’t able to offer in their fight for the playoffs. There are plenty of players available from other teams on monster contracts or that have third-line upside like Trenin, but getting someone with Arvidsson’s term and skillset isn’t something that they have the option to do from many other teams.
The End Result
Assuming that Granlund is re-signed or that Philip Tomasino is finally given the opportunity to centre the top line for the Predators, then here is what the lineup would look like next year without any of the current unrestricted free agents, without any outside additions, and theoretically, without Arvidsson.
Forsberg – Johansen – Duchene
Jarnkrok – Tomasino – Kunin
Tolvanen – Sissons – Grimaldi
Jeannot – Trenin – Cousins
Flipping Eeli Tolvanen and Calle Jarnkrok at left wing could be an option as well, if the goal was to stack the more offensively gifted players on the second line and the more responsible ones in the bottom-six. However you slice it, this lineup looks like one that John Hynes could trust, and that could take the Predators back to the postseason next season. If someone else like Rem Pitlick or Luke Evangelista shows that they are ready for a full-time spot, then we have already seen Grimaldi sit for most of a season, so it also wouldn’t hinder the youth from growing into new roles.
In the end, Arvidsson just doesn’t mesh well with the best version of the team moving forward, and the added flexibility both contractually and positionally that players like Jarnkrok, Sissons, and Kunin bring instead are why they should be protected over the short Swedish speedster.