2019-20 Predators Player Report Cards: Filip Forsberg
The Swedish forward had a self-proclaimed “down year,” but there were many bright spots.
By many accounts, Filip Forsberg had a “down year.” While his goal and assist totals were at their lowest since he played just 13 games in his 2013-14 rookie season, Forsberg still performed relatively well, despite a lot of things working against the Swedish forward.
The Report Card
- One of Forsberg’s surprising areas of excellence last season was his performance on the power play. The Predators’ power play as a whole improved from dreadful levels in previous years, and Forsberg was a large part of that relative success. Despite scoring just seven goals and seven assists on the power play, Forsberg was tremendous at facilitating offense and creating opportunities for his team. How integral was Forsberg to the success of the Nashville power play?
Without Filip Forsberg on the ice for the power play, Nashville was completely toothless on offense. The Predators were completely unable to create anything in the crease in front of the net, and were relegated to point shots and low-danger shots from the circles in Forsberg’s absence. He consistently created opportunities for his teammates in front of the net, even though the vast majority of his shots were from the left circle. Opponents had to respect his goal-scoring potential, even from the medium-danger areas, which allowed his teammates to thrive. In fact, if you want to examine the analytics for just how impactful Forsberg was on the power play, you can look at his impact compared to another “power play specialist”.
[Ed.: It’s worth noting that Alex Ovechkin consistently outperforms most xG metrics, especially on the power play—that is, an average NHLer in his position on the ice, even getting the same top-quality passes from Nicklas Bäckström to set him up, would not be expected to do as well as Ovechkin does. Still, Forsberg’s impact here shouldn’t be negated.]
- While his scoring overall was at its lowest in years, there were some mitigating factors behind this. It’s true that your superstar forward should be able to score no matter what, but Forsberg’s skill and versatility worked against him somewhat, as he was moved up and down the lineup under both Peter Laviolette and John Hynes./
Forsberg started the season with Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund, and the unit was one of the best forward lines in the NHL over the first two weeks of the season. Despite an injury against the Vegas Golden Knights that caused him to miss six games, Forsberg rode a hot offensive performance, starting the season with five goals and three assists in his first six games before the injury.
The performance of the so-called “first line” caused Laviolette to reunite the JOFA line (Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson). Although Forsberg continued to play at a high level (four goals and two assists) over the next two weeks, the injury to Viktor Arvidsson against St. Louis saw Forsberg playing with his fourth line combination in just sixteen games. With Calle Järnkrok replacing Arvidsson on the top line, Forsberg (and his linemates) struggled, with the winger scoring just two goals and five assists in the following ten games.
The lines were shuffled more, and by the end of the 2019 calendar year, Filip Forsberg had spent time with seven different sets of linemates, including odd combinations like Forsberg and Duchene with Rocco Grimaldi, as well as Forsberg playing with Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino (these were the last gasps of the Laviolette era). Once John Hynes took over and as the team dealt with injuries, Forsberg was shuffled all over the lineup, and would score just eleven goals over the next four months (compared to ten in the first two).
Why is this all in the “positives” section of the review? Forsberg nearly matched his point total from 2018-19 (48 points in 2019-20 compared to 50 points in the previous season) despite playing significantly less time with his usual linemates.
Filip Forsberg’s Linemates, 2017-2020 (5 on 5)
|Season||Line||TOI Together||On-Ice Goals For|
It wasn’t just Forsberg struggling, it was almost the entire rest of the team, excluding Roman Josi and the line of Craig Smith, Nick Bonino and Rocco Grimaldi. Ending the regular season with just two fewer points than the previous year, despite the tremendous lineup shuffling, puts his performance in the “positive” column for me.
- Filip Forsberg excelled in other aspects of the game, ranking fifth in takeaways (3.65 takeaways per 60 minutes) and ninth in shot attempts (20.1 attempts per 60 minutes) among NHL forwards with at least 200 minutes of TOI. He was able to do this despite ranking 279th among forwards in on-ice save percentage, a dreadful 91.4%.
- A major advantage of Filip Forsberg’s game is his ability to both move the puck and create opportunities for his teammates. Using Corey Sznajder’s tracking data which goes into zone entries/exits, shot assists and many other metrics, you can see that Forsberg continues to live up to his reputation as a wizard with the puck on his stick./
Forsberg was second on the team among forwards in carry-in percentage for zone entries—he excelled at bringing the puck into the offensive zone, and did so nearly all by himself. However, he was not limited to shooting the puck once the entry was made. Forsberg led all Nashville forwards in transition plays where he passed to the shooter (shot assists are assists that don’t have to result in a goal). He was extremely dangerous leading the offense—opponents had to respect his scoring ability, and in turn, pulled defenders towards him to set up open shots for his teammates.
Forsberg had the ability to create opportunities for his teammates, but with a revolving cast of linemates through out the season, more often than not he was shooting the puck in high-danger areas and creating offense on his own. Forsberg performed at an elite level in generating offense.
Despite Forsberg’s partial resilience in the face of numerous different linemates, the star forward for a team should still be producing consistently, and this is an area where he struggled. Filip Forsberg had five different goalless stretches of four games or more in the 63 games he played this season, including the entire month of February:
Filip Forsberg Goalless Streaks, 2019-20 Regular Season
|Dates||Games||Forsberg Assists||Team Record||Team Point Percentage|
|11/25 - 12/03||5||2||2-1-2||60%|
|12/10 - 12/16||4||3||2-2-0||50%|
|12/27 - 1/05||5||2||1-3-1||30%|
|1/16 - 1/29||4||3||2-2-0||50%|
|2/01 - 3/03||16||7||8-7-1||53%|
When Forsberg—Nashville’s leading goal-scorer in 2019-20—didn’t score a goal for four or more games, the Predators were consistently no better than a 0.500 team. While part of that obviously falls on the poor goaltending and inconsistent linemates, the top-line winger of the team should be giving a more consistent offensive performance. In those 34 games listed above, Nashville had a record of 15-15-4 (53% points percentage), compared to 20-11-4 in the other 35 games (62.8% points percentage).
A little over a year ago, I wrote about Forsberg’s skill at both ends of the ice, arguing that the forward deserved more appreciation for his defensive abilities. Unfortunately, last season did not do much to support that argument:
In the isolates, the bottom defensive isolate shows better defensive performance the lower the percentage is and the more blue is on the map. For the RAPM charts, xGA/60 and CA/60 (expected goals against and shot attempts against) are the measurements of defensive skill.
Forsberg’s defense declined last season compared the the years previous, and it could arguably be seen as his worst defensive season since his 13 game rookie season in 2013-14. While his ability to limit shot quality against hovered around league average in both years, Forsberg saw a significant decline in limiting shot attempt volume against while he was on the ice, despite doing a better job limiting chances in front of the net.
- While we did already address this, Forsberg’s offensive metrics declined as well, with a +5.9% offensive impact being his lowest in three seasons./
I struggled between these two options, but settled on giving you both. First, the lacrosse goal game—Forsberg became only the second player in NHL history to score with the high-skill shot (Andrei Svechnikov also did it twice last season), in the 4-2 Nashville loss against the Edmonton Oilers in January. While Svech did score that way twice before Forsberg did, I’d argue that Forsberg’s speed and his distance from the net makes it the most impressive of the three.
However, that game was a loss, and only his 15th-best game of the season by game score (tracked by HockeyStatCards.com using the Game Score metric). His second-best game of the season was the final game of the regular season on March 3rd, a two-goal, one-assist effort in a 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Forsberg was dominant, assisting Ryan Johansen’s goal in the first minute of the second period, before scoring on the power play six minutes later and at even strength eight minutes after that. That performance reminded us that Forsberg still has tremendous skill and ability. He looked like his former self, not the one that had gone without a goal the entire month before.
The 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes stands as Forsberg’s worst game by a pretty large margin. First of all, this was his lowest Game Score of the season, posting a -1.92 (or about the equivalent of scoring negative two points)—his next-lowest game was -0.99. This game was right in the middle of his 16-game streak without a goal and being on a line with Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris didn’t help that. Second (and perhaps much more importantly)—this was my birthday, and the one-year anniversary of receiving my authentic Forsberg jersey. It wasn’t fun.
You could argue that nobody on the team did very well (eight Predators had a worse game score than Forsberg, including Roman Josi, the Bonino line and half of the other defenders), but this was not the type of effort we are used to seeing from Forsberg.
Final Grade: B
As Forsberg himself admitted on several occasions, this was indeed a down year for the Swedish forward. He struggled on both sides of the ice relative to previous seasons, and his inconsistent scoring left Nashville no better than a 0.500 team. However, I’ll cut him a little slack, since his ability to steal the puck and his top-level power play performance was great last season. Plus, he performed at a near-elite level in zone entries, shot contributions and transition play among all NHL forwards.
Also, Forsberg played with a whopping thirteen different line combinations (with 4 minutes of 5 on 5 TOI or more). His most common linemates were Duchene and Granlund (225 minutes TOI), followed by Johansen and Arvidsson (124 minutes)—both way below his TOI with the JOFA line in the two previous years. And while one might think to blame the COVID-shortened season, Forsberg played 63 games last season, compared to 64 in 2018-19 and 67 in 2017-18. Let’s hope that John Hynes gives his top forward consistent linemates and allows him to play his usual game.
How would you grade Filip Forsberg during the 2019-20 season?