LAS VEGAS -- The tough reality of losing forward James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday set in for Nashville Predators general manager David Poile.
After Poile was rewarded for his work in helping the Predators reach their first Stanley Cup Final by being selected General Manager of the Year, he saw the Golden Knights take Neal as one of their 30 choices in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft presented by T-Mobile.
"That hurts. We're down a man," Poile said.
The Predators acquired Neal in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Patric Hornqvist on June 27, 2014. Neal had 41 points (23 goals, 18 assists) in 70 games this season, and nine points (six goals, three assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help Nashville reach the Final, where it lost to the Penguins in six games.
"This expansion process was painful for the Nashville Predators," Poile said. "We knew it. There was no way of getting out of it. The strength of our team is at defense, so we protected four defensemen. We were only able to protect four forwards, so it didn't line up correctly for us. I tried like a lot of people did, some of them a lot more successful than I was, to make a deal with [Golden Knights GM] George [McPhee]. The price was just too high in my estimation. Whatever assets I didn't give George to retain James or any other player, I still have those assets."
Nashville protected forwards Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Calle Jarnkrok, defensemen Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, and goalie Pekka Rinne from Vegas in the expansion draft.
Neal, 29, had 136 points (77 goals, 59 assists) in 219 games during three seasons with the Predators. He has 451 points (238 goals, 213 assists) in 632 games in nine seasons for Nashville, Pittsburgh and the Dallas Stars.
"Now it's up to me and my staff to replace James," Poile said. "That starts when we head to Chicago and the [2017 NHL] Draft [on Thursday], and we get into the interview period for unrestricted free agents."
The loss of Neal wasn't a surprise to the Predators or to Neal. Poile said talked to Neal at the end of the season about the possibility of him being exposed to Vegas and discussed it with Neal's agent in recent days.
"I was trying to work a deal with George but I was unsuccessful," Poile said. "[Neal] and I are on good terms [but] he didn't want to go. I think he thought that Nashville was a home for him. It's not perfect for him or perfect for us."