The good news for the Nashville Predators and the other teams in the NHL is that there is no expansion looming anytime in the near future. There have been two of them since 2017, and putting together protection lists has forced some of the teams into lose-lose scenarios decisions.
For the Nashville Predators, it has been fairly smooth sailing as compared to the rest of the league. That is not to say that they have not made some controversial choices, or even some moves that they would ideally like to have back.
But ultimately, the decisions former General Manager David Poile made in 2017 and 2021 did not hurt them that badly then or now. They did not lose any key prospects or players who were integral to their Stanley Cup window in 2017-2019, which is way better than a lot of teams fared then.
Nashville Predators protection list was easy to decide in 2017
The 2017 Expansion Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights was a very straight forward one from the Predators perspective. They were and always have been a defense heavy team, they opted to protect eight skaters instead of seven forwards and three defensemen, and seven of the eight were no-brainers.
Predators Protection List in 2017
- Pekka Rinne (G)
- Filip Forsberg (F)
- Viktor Arvidsson (F)
- Calle Jarnkrok (F)
- Ryan Johansen (F)
- Mattias Ekholm (D)
- Roman Josi (D)
- Ryan Ellis (D)
- P.K. Subban (D)
The only puzzling decision was the one to protect Calle Jarnkrok over James Neal, who the Golden Knights selected, and the fanbase at the time did not like it. Neal was still himself in Vegas the next year when the Predators were at the peak of their contending window and claimed the Presidents Trophy, and there is no doubt they could have used him that year.
But Neal was going to be a free agent the very next season and almost surely not re-signed, and I honestly do not know just how much 9f a difference it would have made in 2017-18.
Keep in mind that while Neal played well and was extremely liked by everyone on the Predators, he only scored 30-plus goals once for them and was not this elite offensive producer by any means. He was not even anything like that when he was in Vegas in 2017-18.
The Predators lost in the second round that year to the Winnipeg Jets, who lost to the Vegas Golden Knights, who lost to the Washington Capitals. Neal has never been that kind of difference-maker, and while he could have helped a little bit, any notion that losing him cost the Predators a potential Stanley Cup is nonsensical.
Not to mention, what happened after that season only proved Poile’s decision right. Neal did not just decline after 2017-18, he basically vanished, only playing four more seasons and not recording more than 31 points in either one.
Also, that 31-point season was aided by a monster but completely unsustainable start to the year, so if you take that out he was basically invisible.
Meanwhile, Jarnkrok continued to play for the Predators up until 2020-21 and is still firmly in the league to this day. He has been a consistent role player and has shown no signs of decline whatsoever, in fact last year was his career high in goals and points, as well as tying his career high in assists.
When you look at it holistically, the Predators would have liked to have Neal over Jarnkrok in 2017-18, but Neal’s loss really did not hurt them like some people think it did. And given how much better Jarnkrok was every year after that, Poile ended up making the right decision.
Nashville Predators 2021 protection list was much more complicated
When you look back at the Predators’ protection list for the 2021 Expansion Draft involving the Seattle Kraken, you will be utterly perplexed at some of the names included. Once again, they opted for the eight skaters option, which was not a shock given the structure of their team.
Protecting Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm were easy choices, as well as Alexandre Carrier, even if that one was not completely straight forward. The other choices, not only on who was protected but who was left exposed, seem quite shocking when you look at them now.
Predators Protection List for 2021 Expansion Draft
- Juuse Saros (G)
- Filip Forsberg (F)
- Luke Kunin (F)
- Tanner Jeannot (F)
- Mattias Ekholm (D)
- Roman Josi (D)
- Alexandre Carrier (D)
- Dante Fabbro (D)
- Philippe Myers (D)
One of those was keeping Luke Kunin, who was not good the next season and subsequently traded, but he had quite a good year for the Predators the season right before. At the time, he looked like he had a real future on the team and it would have been absolutely crazy to risk losing him for nothing, so only the power of hindsight could have helped there.
Tanner Jeannot was also protected, which was a little surprising even at the time, but nonetheless the correct choice. His contributions were vital to the fan-favorite “herd line” back then, and given how he played right out of the gate, he looked to have a really bright future in the league.
Jeannot was ultimately traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning less than two years later, but ended up fetching the Predators an absolute haul in return. He may not have a future in Nashville anymore, but was a valuable piece and at the very least, someone who was smart to keep from the Seattle Kraken.
The only one who was protected that truly makes you ask yourself “HOW?” was Philippe Myers.
Just days before the Expansion Draft, the Predators acquired him in a package as part of the Ryan Ellis trade, and they saw Myers as a part of the future at the time.
That obviously did not happen, and while it would have looked quite bad to expose him right there, he has only played 38 games since and is essentially out of the league now.
In Kunin’s case, he had at least done well for the Predators and has still been an alright player besides 2021-22, but Myers had proven almost nothing to the team or anyone else.
Now, Myers was flipped to Tampa Bay a year later as part of the Ryan McDonagh trade and Ellis’ career is near over due to injuries. The Myers experience as a whole did not hurt the Predators much at all, but it is just crazy that a player of his caliber was ever protected.
Two Players Exposed and Then Go for Career Years in the NHL
But maybe even more crazy than that was the decision to expose both Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene. Each player was making $8M per year, and while both were clearly underperforming, it was still just such a major statement to not protect two players who were expected to be so important to the team.
Both were passed on, and it was an obvious situation where if either one was really worth it, they would have not been available to begin with. Exposing them instead of others who had earned their protection spots was the tough but right choice, and you do not need hindsight to tell you that, even though both are gone from the team now.
The only thing I really wish Poile had done differently was protecting Colton Sissons over Dante Fabbro. Sissons has always been the under-appreciated backbone of the bottom six, as he has always been dependable on the ice and in the locker room, especially with how the team has changed over the years.
Fabbro on the other hand, while he is far from an awful player, has always had his future with the Predators up in the air and has truly yet to break out. Sissons was not selected by the Kraken, so it ended up alright, but it would have been better to protect him and his role on the team as opposed to an uncertain player at an already loaded position.
Even if Fabbro was not in the picture, it probably would have been tough to choose between him and Jarnkrok, who ultimately and ironically was selected by the Kraken. I still would have prioritized Sissons, as he really was and still is the “glue” of the bottom six and would have been harder to replace than Jarnkrok.
The 2021 Expansion Draft ended up being quite a weird one for Poile and the Nashville Predators, but thankfully no decision they made came back to haunt them much, if at all.