Who to protect
The major question is who the Nashville Predators protect. General Manager David Poile is going to have hard decisions to make between now and then. Just like 2017, the Predators are poised to lose a key player. But, who will it be this time around?
Given the rules, Juuse Saros will likely be exposed. Rinne will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and likely to retire. Because Saros is an RFA, and the only goalie on the team, the Predators may be forced to expose him in the Expansion Draft. But, then again, he could be safe depending who else is on the roster.
When it comes to skaters, there is a significant reason to believe the Predators should keep 7 forwards and 3 defensemen. Let’s go with this for now.
The true issue comes with the defensemen. We know they will at least protect three players, with P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis being two of those players. Roman Josi’s signing will play a major role in who else is protected. Now, there are three other defensemen on the team, or at least will be. Let’s say, for purposes of our theory, Dante Fabbro has made the team and played one season. He would automatically be protected. You could make a case for the Predators to then protect three defensemen.
Of the players left exposed, one must be under contract for 2021-22. So, either Mattias Ekholm or a third-pairing player will be exposed. Not ideal. But, given the fact Fabbro is on the roster and protected, it could be worse. At least, in theory.
So, if the Predators protect three defensemen, they can keep seven forwards. Of course, we can speculate they keep Johansen, Forsberg, and Arvidsson. Protecting Turris would also be wise. From there, it truly depends on who is on the roster. Tolvanen will be an RFA and could prove himself worthy of protection in the coming seasons. Smith has been a vital part of the team and should re-sign in 2020. After that, it is up for grabs. Could it be Hartman? Jarnkrok? Even Fiala? For me, if Bonino signs, you protect him.
Given the fact the forward roster is better now than it was in 2017 means the Nashville Predators should consider protecting seven of them. That means exposing a defenseman. Protecting eight skaters may mean risking Bonino, Tolvanen, Fiala, or another key player. The decision will be difficult, but protecting 7/3/1 may be the way to go this time around.