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.