The Nashville Predators are entering a period of roster upheaval. Whether in the form of trades for prospects or picks, a complete teardown, or a “reload,” this team ought to look very different by the end of the season. Recently, the crux of trade discussions on Twitter has been Filip Forsberg, who was not listed on Elliotte Friedman’s list of “untouchable” players on his Headlines show. I personally think any trade involving The Prince will end up a net loss for Nashville, barring some seriously spectacular negotiation by David Poile—unlikely given his recent track record. Let’s dig into why.
Possible Trade Value
Filip Forsberg is one of the few cost-controlled young stars in the league, and if he were ever surrounded with explosive talent matching his own within a competent offense, he’d be producing at a rate that’d establish his contract as one of the best in the league. With that said, let’s look at the value coming back for star forwards who have been sold off in the past year or two:
The Devils traded Taylor Hall (28) to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a conditional 2020 first-round pick, conditional 2021 third-round pick, and prospects Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley and Kevin Bahl.
While I’d say the Devils got the better of the hapless Coyotes, the Mark Stone trade acts as a much better comparable for Forsberg’s situation. The Prince is due for a huge extension in 2021, and he may choose to eschew a rebuilding Nashville team in favor of a championship contender. If you’re a GM calling David Poile about the Swede, you point that out when negotiating your price.
My point here is that any pile of draft picks and prospects accrued by shipping out Forsberg will pale in comparison to the value he currently provides and will likely provide down the road. He’s currently just 26 and scoring at a great clip on a dead-in-the-water team, so if Nashville successfully orchestrates a rapid rebuild he’ll still have a few prime years left to help the team’s younger talent make some deep runs in the postseason. If the return for Mark Stone (a player who was underrated at the time, but still considered a star) was that underwhelming, Forsberg will likely net something similar. Granted, the jury is still out on Erik Brannström and he’s a talented prospect, but you’re essentially trading a relatively young asset for a set of mystery boxes.
The Concept of Development
The mistake that far too many rebuilding teams make is burning literally everything to the ground and starting from scratch. Unless your franchise is historically toxic (like the Cleveland Browns) there’s no need to take a scorched-earth approach. You need a few key veterans to help bring young players along and make your team semi-respectable, and with the pair of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis reported to be sticking around for the foreseeable future the blue line is taken care of.
In the case of rising forwards like Philip Tomasino, Eeli Tolvanen and Rem Pitlick, they’ll need someone to help them along too. In my eyes, the two ideal men on the roster to fill this role are Forsberg and Matt Duchene, the latter mostly because his contract and serviceable play make him a complicated piece to move. These young players will have bumps and dips in play and will need a guiding force through the highs and lows of the NHL; Forsberg will help them through these stretches, ensuring that the consistently nonlinear development path of the NHL doesn’t hamper their growth.
Locker Room Impact
I will never pretend I know exactly what’s going on in an NHL locker room, because even people who are around the team every day can never have a perfect grasp on the situation. At the same time, I can guarantee you this: trading away your best player when he’s in the middle of a career season isn’t a good look for any organization, especially when he’s arguably the best forward in franchise history.
Forsberg is a leader in the room, that much is certain. He’s a very serious player in regards to his approach to improving his game and he clearly wants to win above everything else. At the same time, he’s a guy who clearly has fun on the ice. He does all the little things the right way, he flashes astronomical skill, and above all he’s one of the few players left on this roster that has had legitimately great performance in the postseason his whole career. Experience and personality like that is invaluable, and for a team trying to nurture a youth movement in the near future selling a player like that would be a waste.
The biggest sticking point for me on Forsberg is the return. The rest of the league seems to see him as a player of William Nylander-esque ability, but I feel he’s a cut above that and belongs more within the realm of Stone. While he clearly hasn't been a superstar in Nashville by production, if you plopped #9 in Toronto or Vegas I can almost guarantee that would change. He’s had very little help offensively for much of his recent career, and he seems to get better with each passing day as he enters his prime. You don’t trade players like Forsberg; you build the next young wave of prospects and acquisitions around him.