Calle Jarnkrok is a young, versatile player coming off of a career-best 16-goal, 30-point season. He took a big step forward for the Predators in 2015-16 and was the sixth-highest scoring forward Nashville had in their lineup.
So, when Jarnkrok elected to file for arbitration this off-season, it wouldn’t have been all that strange were he looking for a short-term deal that would give him the chance to prove himself and earn his big payday when he was up for free agency once again. Instead, he signed a six-year, $12-million contract that could prove to be an incredibly team-friendly deal in no time.
But for as team-friendly as the deal is for the Predators, it’s equally as strange for Jarnkrok. Sure, he’s certain to have an NHL deal for the foreseeable future, but he may have greatly undervalued what he could be worth in only a few years’ time and given up potentially millions in salary.
A second-round pick, 51st overall, by Detroit in 2010, Jarnkrok landed in Nashville in 2014 as part of a trade deadline deal that sent David Legwand to the Red Wings. Jarnkrok was the major piece going the other way in the deal and one that the Predators were hopeful about. He finished that season in Nashville, and became a full-time NHLer in 2014-15. And over the past two seasons, his rise has been fairly quick.
Jarnkrok scored seven goals and 18 points in his first full campaign with the Predators, but he was used as a bottom-line pivot. He averaged less than 13 minutes of ice time per game, was a fill-in on the penalty kill and rarely, if ever, saw time on the power play. But that changed this past season, as coach Peter Laviolette made use of the versatile Jarnkrok.
In 2015-16, Jarnkrok saw the eighth-most ice time of any Predator, was part of the top penalty kill unit and even got a few looks on the second power play unit. The uptick in playing time paid off, too, as he scored one goal shorthanded, notched three with the man advantage and, as noted, set a career-best with 18 goals and 30 points. That’s not to mention he spent time on the top line playing on the wing alongside James Neal and Ryan Johansen, faced some of the toughest competition of any Nashville forward and boasted a 52 percent shot attempts for percentage.
That’s what makes his signing for $2 million per season — for the next six seasons — so bizarre. Jarnkrok’s game is trending in the right direction, he has some serious upside and is only now about to enter the prime of his career. He could very well be a 20-goal scorer in two seasons’ time and on the brink of unrestricted free agency with a healthy payday coming his way. Instead, he signed a deal that could undervalue his contributions.
In a league where players often want to prove themselves, be it by going to free agency and testing the open market or fighting for a deal that puts the onus on them to produce, it’s hard not to feel as if Jarnkrok’s contract sets some limits on where he's expecting to be in six years. He’s tied to a contract that will pay him like a role player, not a potential breakout star, and he’s tied to it for six years. It’s not as if the deal assures he’ll stay in Nashville, either.
With the expansion draft looming, Jarnkrok could be the perfect middle-six player for the Las Vegas franchise to pick up and it’s going to be difficult for the Predators to protect him. Nashville GM David Poile has built his team around his top-four defensemen, and protecting P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis allows for only four forwards to be deemed ineligible for selection in the expansion draft. Johansen and Filip Forsberg are sure to be two of the four protected forwards, but among a group that also includes Neal, Colin Wilson, Craig Smith and a few young players open to selection, there’s no guarantee Jarnkrok remains in Music City.
The one benefit to the deal is that Jarnkrok is almost guaranteed a job in the NHL for the next six seasons. At $2 million per season, no team is going to be in a hurry to move along a prime-aged player who can play in so many different roles and produce from anywhere in the lineup. There’s also the argument that his discount price gives the Predators, or whichever team Jarnkrok is a part of, the chance to use salary elsewhere to build a winner.
For the time being, Jarnkrok’s deal looks as though he’s sold himself short. He’s heading in the right direction, and if he continues to evolve into a top-six forward, he certainly won’t be paid like one. His loss, though, is the Predators’ gain.
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