Kevin Fiala

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Predators are one Johansen deal away from a salary cap work of art

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If you need to kill some time, play this game: which Nashville Predators contract is the biggest steal?

If Viktor Arvidsson is as much of a difference-maker as his limited NHL reps indicate, his $4.25 million cap hit over seven years is certainly in the running. Still, there are plenty of choices.

  • The defense alone is bargain-filled, making P.K. Subban‘s $9 million cap hit easy to stomach.

Ryan Ellis‘ $2.5 million cap hit doesn’t run out until after 2018-19. Mattias Ekholm‘s less of a “well-kept secret” following Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, yet his $3.75M steal runs through 2021-22. Roman Josi can be a bit polarizing but at $4M for three more seasons, it’s not controversial to say that he’s probably at least worth the money.

  • The offensive bargains begin with the top line.

Arvidsson has the makings of a legit first-line winger, and that deal is highly likely to be regrettable … for his agent and accountant.

Filip Forsberg‘s $6M isn’t as audacious as some of those defensive steals, but it’s still pretty nice. That total also makes it easier for the Predators to try to control costs for their one remaining big consideration: Ryan Johansen, who still needs a deal as an RFA.

  • Calle Jarnkrok is a pretty nifty get at $2M per season, especially if he grows with a contract that runs through 2021-22.
  • Scott Hartnell took quite the homecoming discount at $1M for 2017-18.
  • As you go deeper, the Predators enjoy some nice deals on players who are under ELC’s or second contracts: Kevin Fiala ($863K), Frederick Gaudreau ($667K), Pontus Aberg ($650K) and Colton Sissons ($625K) could all be helpful contributors at low costs.

This tweet really sells the point, in case this post hasn’t: GM David Poile hasn’t been slowing down much since being named GM of the Year. And he might just be the best executive in the NHL right now.

  • It’s all pretty immaculate; even if you’re not a fan of Pekka Rinne, his $7 million cap hit expires in two seasons. By then, the Predators could very well transition to Juuse Saros, possibly echoing the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray along the way.

Overall, it’s an enviable situation, as Nashville’s clean cap ranks with Pittsburgh and few others as the best-looking in the NHL. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that the Lightning are allocating $8.8 million to the shaky duo of former Rangers in Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.

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Still, the Predators aren’t done for the summer, as Johansen stands as a tricky situation. They don’t have the helpful deadline of arbitration looming, so the two sides are just going to have to figure something out … eventually.

Even so, Cap Friendly pegs them at $13.43 million in cap space, so they have room to work with their first-line center.

While teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks stocked up on high draft picks, the Predators’ greatest moves have largely come through shrewd drafting, savvy trades, and forward-thinking contract extensions. One can debate which setup is the best, but Poile’s work places Nashville in the upper crust, and their built to stay there for years to come.

Related: Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel could help Penguins compete for years.

Predators send Colin Wilson to Avalanche for fourth-round pick

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Colin Wilson, who’s spent his entire career with Nashville after getting taken seventh overall in 2008, is on his way out of town.

The Preds have dealt Wilson to Colorado in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2019, per TSN. The move essentially amounts to a salary dump for the Preds, who opened free agency by signing Nick Bonino to a four-year, $16.1 million deal.

Wilson has two years left on a four-year, $3.9 million pact. That was too steep a price for GM David Poile to continue paying, especially since the Preds have young forwards capable of replacing Wilson’s production (Kevin Fiala and Pontus Aberg, most notably).

Poile also needs to maintain cap space for Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, both of whom are RFAs and in need of new contracts this summer.

For Colorado, they get a 27-year-old forward that, two seasons ago, posted career highs in goals (20) and points (42). It’s a decent upgrade in talent — something the Avs need — and the cost was minimal.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

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After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.

 

Yes, Predators expose Neal instead of Jarnkrok to expansion draft

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The Nashville Predators indeed chose to protect Calle Jarnkrok instead of James Neal from the expansion draft, as Sunday’s list confirmed.

Once it became clear that GM David Poile hadn’t (yet?) convinced Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee to accept a trade not to take someone like Neal, there were questions about whether the Predators might make a move rather than losing a key asset for free.

Poile still has time to sweeten the deal for McPhee, but he wasn’t able to make a trade with any of the league’s other teams. At the moment, it certainly seems plausible that the Golden Knights might snatch Neal from Nashville.

Now, as painful as that prospect might be, Neal is 29 and carries a $5 million cap hit; if the Predators didn’t view him as part of the future beyond 2017-18, then this might be a lot like pulling off the Band-Aid a year early. It wouldn’t feel good, yet it might be the best option.

There’s also a question regarding whether the Golden Knights would want to take on an expensive deal for a player who may start to leave his prime once the team’s truly ready to compete.

Actually, the most intrigue might come with the question of who else is available. The NHL’s release listed speedy, intriguing forward Pontus Aberg as available, which was recently confirmed by the Tennessean’s Adam Vignan.

As interesting a debate as Jarnkrok vs. Neal might be, the Golden Knights now must face a similar choice in Neal vs. Aberg.

Do you go with a reasonably affordable source of a precious commodity in goals in Neal, even though he’s 29 and makes $5 million? Instead, might you aim for Aberg, an intriguing young talent in need of an RFA deal?

The Predators secured Jarnkrok, a 25-year-old carrying a bargain $2 million cap hit through 2021-22. Even if his ceiling might be a touch lower, the former Red Wings prospect showed that he can climb up the lineup when needed, as he excelled when Nashville called upon him to take an elevated role thanks to injuries during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Success often makes your key pieces that much more desirable, something the Predators are experiencing right now. If Poile can’t sweeten the deal to make McPhee take a lesser player, Nashville fans will wonder about Jarnkrok vs. Neal (vs. Aberg) for some time to come.

Predators’ ‘dog-on-a-bone mentality’ has carried them during playoff run

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The instant one of the Pittsburgh Penguins passes the puck to a teammate, one of the Nashville Predators closes in, taking away any time or space to operate.

The junkyard dog approach to hockey for the Stanley Cup Final debutants has a history: It is the Predators’ on-ice version of Stanley, the blue mutt with a bone clenched between his teeth. He’s the team mascot whose picture is stuck on the Predators’ locker-room door, now with two bandages commemorating playoff-ending injuries first to forward Kevin Fiala, then center Ryan Johansen. The dog, its name tag hanging from a spiked collar, bares his teeth in photos on three walls inside, too.

Stanley is the symbol of how coach Peter Laviolette wanted his Predators to play this season. They responded with an attacking, never-stop approach that has helped Nashville go from the last team into the NHL playoffs to one that is two wins from a championship. The Predators are tied 2-2 with the Penguins with Game 5 coming up Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

“We definitely know what our identity is,” defenseman P.K. Subban said. “It’s kind of the dog-on-a-bone mentality. And we want to dictate the pace of the game, and we want to attack you in all three zones as a five-man unit and be tough to play against. And I think everybody on our team can skate, move the puck and make plays.”

Read more: Predators forecheck giving Penguins d-men plenty of problems

Stanley is more than just a cartoon dog. The Predators also award the best player in each game a heavy chain as a reward, a hockey version of a game ball. The Predators in past years have given out a construction worker’s hard hat to recognize the best player in a game.

Defenseman Matt Irwin says Stanley shows exactly how the Predators want to play.

“If you think of Stanley and you look at him, his knees are bent, he’s in an athletic stance, his mouth’s drooling,” Irwin said. “It’s the intensity he brings, and that’s the kind of intensity we want to bring to our game every night.”

That’s exactly what Laviolette wanted when the Stanley concept was introduced months ago. Irwin said winning the big chain is a very cool honor, even though he’s won it only once this season.

“Obviously when you win the chain, it’s recognition from your teammates you contributed and you had a solid night,” Irwin said.

Photos of a menacing dog and a chain can only go so far, though. The Predators finished the regular season 16th in the NHL with 94 points. They knew they would be starting on the road in every series, and the Predators responded by winning the opener of their first three series.

Now they head to Pittsburgh needing to find a way to win in the home ice of the defending champions after dropping Games 1 and 2.

The Predators are 5-5 away from Nashville this postseason. They are getting production from everyone who hits the ice, with 19 different players scoring at least one goal – two shy of the NHL record of 21 held by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers. They also have killed 24 of 25 penalties in the Stanley Cup Final.

In Game 1, Nashville became the first team to hold an opponent without a shot on goal in a period of a Final game since the NHL started tracking that statistic in 1957, and that drought lasted 37 minutes even though Pittsburgh pulled out a 5-3 win. In Game 3, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held without a shot on goal in the same playoff game for the first time in their careers.

Mattias Ekholm said everything is designed to make opponents work hard and fellow defenseman Ryan Ellis noted that the hard work is required of the Predators, too.

“As much as it is about skill and speed and all that, it’s the work ethic, it’s the little things, and I think that’s kind of the idea behind that is doing the right thing and working as hard as we can,” Ellis said. “I mean working hard in a game trumps all no matter skill level or this or that.”