Its been a little over five months since the NHL concluded the most recent expansion draft filling the roster of the newly-formed Las Vegas Golden Knights. Its also been the same amount of time since the Predators chose to protect Calle Jarnkrok over James Neal, allowing the latter to be selected by the Golden Knights during the expansion draft.
Ultimately, it was the smart move for Nashville to make. Although plenty of folks didnt see it as such at the time, and still dont, losing Neal was the only choice for the Predators.
Granted, choosing Jarnkrok over Neal could be one of the tougher decisions that Predators general manager David Poile has had to make in his tenure with Nashville. When you boil the decision down to its simplest form, are you choosing to lose guaranteed offense or a smart, defensively-sound, two-way center that can win face-offs?
Its nearly impossible to simplify a critical decision like that.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but ask yourself this: if the Predators still have Neal in their lineup, does the trade for Kyle Turris even happen? Neal will command a hefty price tag for his services come the end of the 2017-18 season, theres no question of that, but Nashville arguably wouldnt have had the budget to keep both Turris and Neal going into future seasons.
Jarnkrok, however, remains a vastly different story.
Through the 2021-22 season, Jarnkrok will be paid $2 million a season a far cry from Neals current $5 million salary and what that could possibly grow to after this season and if he hits free agency.
In place of Neals offensive talent, though, Jarnkrok brings intelligent two-way hockey and a great prowess at the face-off dot.
Hes a reliable, two-way player who chips in with offense, said Predators coach Peter Laviolette when asked how he would evaluate Jarnkrok. For me, hes a guy I count on in a lot of different situations. I think hes a real smart, cerebral player that plays in the defensive zone as well as he plays in the offensive zone.
On the scoresheet, though, youre not going to see Jarnkrok potting 20 or more goals a season, its just not going to happen outside of a fluke season. Thats not what the Predators use him for. As a mid-range weapon for Nashville, theyll continue to slot Jarnkrok on the third and fourth lines and thanks to the addition of Turris the Predators will have the freedom to move him around to different positions as well.
On Twitter the other day, I unfairly said that Neal was a one-dimensional player. Hes not and the facts back it up. Neals been a fairly decent possession player for the Golden Knights this season, sitting around middle-of-the-pack with his Corsi numbers. Jarnkrok hasnt been as successful. The biggest difference between the two would be which zone each has started in when heading out for a shift.
Jarnkrok has seen less than 40 percent of his starts in the offensive zone, opposed to Neals 48 percent which give him a clear offensive advantage over Jarnkrok. Youll normally see a bit of disparity in possession metrics with a near-20 percent difference in zone starts.
Would the Predators have been better keeping Neal over Jarnkrok? Id argue against it, just for the reasons listed above. Youre not going to have a staggering offensive weapon scoring 20-plus goals every season, but youre going to have a dedicated centerman who can switch to wing whenever called upon.
And, at $2 million a season for the next four years? Theres zero argument the price tag can be any better for Nashville.