Updated: Sep 17, 2019
The Predators forfeited just James Neal to the newborn Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion draft. In retrospect, the team escaped the draft relatively unscathed.
The 2021 Expansion Draft, this time purposing the Seattle "No-Names" future roster, will be another test in player projection for the Preds.
By the summer of 2021, the Preds' roster will likely look a lot different than it does now. The end of this coming season, 2019-2020, will be the expiration of the following players' contracts with the team:
- Mikael Granlund
- Craig Smith
- Austin Watson
- Rocco Grimaldi
- Miikka Salomaki
- Freddie Gaudreau
- Roman Josi
- Dan Hamhuis
- Yannick Weber
- Matt Irwin
In addition, Pekka Rinne and Nick Bonino's contracts will end at the end of the 2020-2021 season. The rules of the expansion draft will be the same ones applied in 2017, so David Poile will extend "protection" to seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie.
Unless something drastic changes, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Colton Sissons will take up five of those seven forward slots. They are all signed long-term and Poile isn't likely going to leave them up for Seattle's grabs.
Things could obviously vary given performance levels, injuries, and trades, however. If Kyle Turris, who will be making $6 million every year until 2024, fails to show improvement this season, it wouldn't be surprising to see him traded at either trade deadline. The same could be said for Calle Jarnkrok, who didn't exactly overwhelm last year (and was chosen over James Neal in 2017). One of the remaining slots could be awarded to Eeli Tolvanen, but he will need to officially turn pro this season for that to happen (first and second year players are exempt from selection). Poile should spend those last two forward protection slots wisely, and will need to shed some dead weight and add some more productive players to make those two protections worthwhile.
It all comes down to bolstering the offense, but doing it furtively and frugally enough so that your loss(es) in the draft don't debilitate you. Vegas reaped the windfall of teams trying to double the expansion draft as an opportunity to clear salary cap space, and it resulted in a Western Conference title for the brand new Golden Knights.
Pending Roman Josi's massive pay raise, hopefully given to him by the Preds, he and Ryan Ellis will likely fill two of the three defensemen slots. I personally don't see a reality where Poile re-signs Matt Irwin or Dan Hamhuis next summer. I also can't see him choosing to use up the last protection slot on Yannick Weber over Dante Fabbro.
Mattias Ekholm will be an interesting story line to follow. He's not the most expensive defenseman, but he's quietly become one of the most elite ones. He put together a career-record year in assists, points, and +/- last season. With Ellis signed with the team long-term, Poile will ultimately have to decide to use the last defensive slot on Ekholm or Fabbro- a proven contributor or a high-octane youngster who could realistically become a star for the Preds.
The goaltending should be the least of Poile's worries. Juuse Saros has been being groomed to replace Pekka Rinne since he began making regular starts in 2016-2017, and he's handled the responsibility well. Rinne's seven-year contract will expire after the 2020-2021 season, when he'll be 38. Rinne is also the only current Preds player who has a No-Movement clause in his contract, which Poile would have to honor with a protection at-cost if his contract were to span the draft. Poile will protect Saros as his one goalie and won't give it much of a second thought.
The imminent mass exodus of free-agent forwards after this coming season will weigh heavily on who Poile brings in to replace them. The reality is, whoever becomes a new Predator in the next year or two will likely be left unprotected in the 2021 Expansion Draft.