(April 5, 2016) – A verdict on the potential expansion of the National Hockey League is due ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. While there has been no 100% guaranteed-official format announced, the NHL has discussed a potential format for an Expansion Draft (full details here): Teams will protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender OR eight total skaters and one goaltender with the choice belonging to the team. It is unknown what will happen with players who have a No Movement Clause (NMC) or a No Trade Clause (NTC) in their contract, but the same report states that any player in their first or second year of professional play will be exempt. It also looks like each team would lose one player if there is one expansion team, or two if both Las Vegas and Quebec City are awarded teams.

For this 30-part #TFTPB series, we will be taking a closer look at each current NHL team and what players might be available to a new franchise at the conclusion of the 2016-17 NHL season. For the sake of simplicity, players with a NMC/NTC will not be made automatically exempt. All contract and salary information for this series is courtesy of NHLNumbers.com.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Nashville Predators.

 

FORWARDS:

We can get a few forwards out of the way pretty quickly. James Neal ($5.000 million), Filip Forsberg ($1.461 million), Craig Smith ($4.250 million) and Ryan Johansen ($4.000 million) are all locks. Forsberg will need to be re-signed this summer as he’s set to become a Restricted Free Agent, and Johansen becomes an RFA next summer, but that shouldn’t change anything. Colin Wilson ($3.928 million) is a pretty safe bet to be protected, as well.

That would leave two open spots. Kevin Fiala ($1.394 million) should take one of those spots as the Predators’ top prospect (according to HockeysFuture.com), though he’ll have competition. Vladislav Kamenev ($0.925 million) has had a good first season in North America for the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. Youngsters Viktor Arvidsson ($0.650 million) and Pontus Aberg ($0.925 million) will both be RFAs in 2017. Still, it’d be likely that Fiala would take a spot over these three.

For the seventh and final spot, it’d be a competition amongst mostly veterans. Mike Ribeiro ($3.500 million) and Mike Fisher ($4.400) both become Unrestricted Free Agents in 2017. They will also each be 37 years old by the time they hit Free Agency. Calle Jarnkrok ($0.735 million) is an RFA this offseason, and he could also enter the mix for consideration for protection. Jarnkrok will turn 26 just ahead of the 2017-18 NHL season.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

Two defensemen are givens: Shea Weber ($7.857 million) and Roman Josi ($4.000 million). Both Weber and Josi are signed long-term and each will be young enough to not worry about a drop in production at that point of their careers. The third spot is more up in the air, with a couple of possible suitors. Ryan Ellis ($2.500 million) and Mattias Ekholm ($1.038 million this season, $3.750 million starting next season) are both producing strong offensive numbers. They are both about the same age and their numbers are nearly identical (Ellis has 3 fewer points in 3 fewer games than Ekholm as of this writing). Ekholm’s contract lasts three years longer than Ellis’ current deal, and that may make the difference.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Pekka Rinne turns 35 early in the 2017-18 NHL season and will become a UFA after the 2018-19 season. While unlikely, it is possible that the Predators could use the Expansion Draft as a means of turning the page on their goaltender. Juuse Saros ($0.925 million) is in his first year as a pro in North America, posting strong AHL numbers. He’s just 20 years old right now (turning 21 in two weeks) and if the Preds think he’s close to ready to take over in the next year, he could be the player protected. Rinne will also have just two seasons remaining on his contract in 2017. Still, it would be hard to fathom that Rinne could be left unprotected given his history with the franchise.

 

THOUGHTS:

Offensively, the Predators will get a good bit younger by 2017. Ribeiro and Fisher are both headed for the Free Agent market that summer anyway, and the Preds might be best suited in leaving them exposed in favor of younger players. That said, Ribeiro has hit the 50-point plateau this season (despite fewer than 10 goals, as of this writing). The hope for Nashville would be that the younger guys that are protected or not picked in the Expansion Draft would step into those roles. The protected players of Neal, Forsberg, Smith, Johansen, Wilson, Fiala and Jarnkrok should allow for a solid Top 6 for the Predators, even without Ribeiro and Fisher.

On the blue line, Weber, Josi and Ekholm are the likely protected players. Ellis could take that final spot away from Ellis, especially if the Preds sign Ellis to a contract extension in the next 12 months.

Put Rinne in the goaltender’s spot for now but, if Juuse Saros looks like the legitimate goalie of the future for Nashville, be prepared for that change. Nashville has moved on from a franchise goalie before; Tomas Vokoun was traded to the Florida Panthers at the NHL Draft in 2007, allowing Pekka Rinne to become the full-time starter for Nashville in 2008.

 

In the next edition of #TFTPB: NHL Expansion, we’ll be looking at the New Jersey Devils.