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Jarnkrok Vs Neal

By DeAnna Scarpelli (https://twitter.com/deannabrooke)

The other night while watching the Predators take on the Blackhawks, I saw several posts pass through my Twitter feed that criticized Calle Jarnkrok’s lack of offensive production and how he should not have been protected over James Neal.

Admittedly, I have been a fan of Jarnkrok’s since his rookie season; however, I still believe the Predators choosing him over Neal to protect in the expansion remains a wise choice for the organization. There is much more to be considered though and to say that James Neal should currently be on the roster over Jarnkrok based on goal production ten games into the season is absurd.

Now that Poile’s choice is being challenged again, a review of the logic behind it has been deemed necessary. The biggest thing to remember is that it ultimately came down to a business decision. Salaries are a real concern to general managers and if one has the ability to create cap space while knowing that he has depth to fill the lost position, it becomes an easier pill to swallow. Looking only at the financial benefits of vacating Neal’s $5 million per year contract, the Predators had more room to lock in Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Ryan Johansen for several years while Jarnkrok’s only takes up $2 million per year until the 2021-22 season.

In short, Jarnkrok’s a bargain, especially if his numbers continue to increase every season. It is very reasonable to say that Jarnkrok’s numbers leave much to be desired; he has yet to score more than twenty goals in a season and is not considered an offensive star. This is apparent even more this season as the Predators are currently suffering in a scoring drought and fans and coaches alike are expecting more from all offensive lines. An even more irksome fact, to some, is that James Neal has collected seven goals so far while Jarnkrok’s first goal of the season came Friday night against the Blackhawks.

Goals are key in determining a player’s worth, especially the league nowadays where players like Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and Alexander Ovechkin are putting up forty plus goals a season; however, it is simply irresponsible to base a player’s worth solely on that statistic. But that has become the cornerstone of recent arguments that losing Neal was a irreparable choice and that Jarnkrok should have gone instead.

No one can argue that Neal and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are off to a hot start. It’s important to note: hot starts are in no way indicative of future performance (just ask the Canadiens). Even more reckless than basing a player’s worth off of goals is to do so ten games into the season. After reviewing statistics from last season, James Neal did not score his first goal until October 29 (just eight games into the 2016-17 season). He turned in solid numbers in November scoring nine goals and December and January were lukewarm at best with only three goals in each month.

Based off of those numbers, February was disappointing in comparison with only one goal. March saw improvement with five goals. Those statistics are simply not convincing or consistent enough to say that Neal’s offensive game was or would be a difference maker this season. If you line-up Neal’s performance last year with Jarnkrok’s so far this season, there is hardly sufficient ground to say that Neal is outpacing Jarnkrok. The James Neal that so many people are coveting is not “classic James Neal.” This is a player who most likely feels like he has something to prove playing for a team that has a lot to prove and it is only a matter of time before he goes several games without a goal.

In the spirit of not basing Neal’s worth off of just goals, let’s look at other important aspects of Neal’s game overall. Perhaps not as important, but worth noting, Neal had a reputation for embellishing penalties. Last season, he was in the penalty box for a total of 35:00 out of a total 1,239 minutes on ice. The emotional component of his game was important in a leadership position, but costly during games. His position at right wing is also an important factor in that Nashville has plenty of depth (including Jarnkrok who has played at wing when necessary despite being listed a center).

Nashville can afford to lose a player in that position, but not so much at center. Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen are widely considered to be two of the best centers in Nashville’s recent history and if Mike Fisher were still here, Nashville would not feel as pressured to create depth at that position. However, Mike Fisher is no longer on the roster and Ryan Johansen’s injury during the playoffs showed how vulnerable the Predators are at center. Combined with Nick Bonino’s current extended absence at center due to injury, Nashville should be thankful that they have options at center and not depending on young players like Gaudreau who are still finding their footing in the NHL.

In the end, the fact is that Jarnkrok was not kept for his goal scoring abilities. Jarnkrok was kept because he is a young(er) player with a bargain of a contract, plays a smart game defensively and offensively, and provides the team with depth at a position where Nashville needs it. The harsh reality is that Neal will stop scoring goals and the Golden Knights will lose–it is inevitable and the way of sports. Jarnkrok should feel a bit of added pressure to score more goals this season, but so should every other player on that roster in order to make this team successful this year and in the future. It is not fair to put all of Nashville’s offensive failings on one player and certainly not wise to do so when the season is approximately an eighth of the season in. The long term benefits of exposing Neal outweigh the short term disappointment that Jarnkrok does not have fifteen goals already when there is almost an entire season to go.

Those who believe that Neal’s current and invariably short term success means Jarnkrok should be wearing a Vegas sweater instead simply lack sufficient data to make a solid determination on the return of Poile’s choice. Jarnkrok also needs more than ten games to prove himself before being considered “underperforming.” If Jarnkrok is “underperforming,” so is just about every player on the team outside of Filip Forsberg and they cannot all be sent to Vegas. When Poile made the decision to keep Jarnkrok over Neal, he was not looking at goal scoring ability so it would not follow logically to make that the crux of the argument. Even more careless is to form that argument prematurely without reasonable proof and any that do so are willfully using the logical fallacy of begging the question.

What Poile saw was an aging, inconsistent goal scorer with a bad rep whose contract would be up soon. If, in April with an entire season of data, James Neal has out performed Calle Jarnkrok, naysayers have a solid case, but ten games into the season is not enough time for a valid opinion. Based on the knowledge available right now, Poile’s decision was the right call and has yet to be reasonably disproven.

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