Sometime over the next ten months, Filip Forsberg and the Nashville Predators are going to hit a crossroads. Forsberg is entering the final year of his six-year, $36-million contract, and is due to become an unrestricted free agent.
That development isn’t a secret in Nashville. Forsberg’s future with the Predators has been a hot topic for the better part of the past year. Now with more chit-chat of a “competitive rebuild” (or whatever you choose to call this period of roster turnover), the thinkpieces and social media speculation are ramping up.
For months, the discussion has been whether the Predators can convince Forsberg to be a part of that rebuild. It’s a fair point to ponder. After all, a 27-year-old sniper with a history of 30-goal seasons can expect big dollars on the open market, especially from teams who may be a Forsberg-esque player away from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
But there’s a truth that really hasn’t been discussed. Just as much as the Preds need to sell Forsberg on their future, Forsberg has to sell Nashville on HIS future.
I know—asinine statement right? After all, Forsberg’s been the lone consistent offensive bright spot over the past five years. He’s finished in the top three in scoring every year he’s been a full-time member of the team. He holds nearly every playoff scoring record in Preds history, and could be a season and a half away from becoming the team’s all-time leading goal scorer.
That said, Forsberg’s past couple of seasons have been a mixed bag. There have been stretches where he’s looked absolutely phenomenal, as well as stretches where he just doesn’t have the impact on the game we expect him to have.
Take last season for instance. On the surface, Forsberg’s 32 points in 39 games looks fairly solid; in fact, Forsberg was scoring at a point-per-game pace (or right below it) through the first two months of the season. Then came a nine-game stretch where Forsberg tallied just two points (1 G, 1A). That drought was immediately followed by an upper-body injury that put Forsberg on the shelf for a month, and although he returned in time for the postseason, he wasn’t nearly as effective.
Filip Forsberg Year-by-Year Statistics
That’s been the par for the course for Forsberg the past couple of seasons: a hot start followed by an injury or an abysmal stretch, ending with a statline that’s fine, but should be better. And that’s been the frustrating thing about Forsberg. As good as he is, and as electric of a player he’s been for the Preds, he SHOULD be even better.
What makes this season so important is the fact that Forsberg’s success and the Preds’ success are directly intertwined. The Preds need their star forward to step up his game. If this is the year Forsberg finally takes that oft-discussed “next step” — he stays healthy, he avoids long cold stretches, and he puts up the big numbers he was tallying just a few years ago — the Predators suddenly become a more dangerous team. The Preds will likely put a few more wins in the W column, may make a stronger run to the postseason, and may suddenly be a little confident with the core the team spent a small ransom to build.
Not only that, but a successful year might embolden David Poile to be more aggressive with a potential contract extension, and offer Forsberg the type of term and money the 27-year-old will likely fetch on the open market. That type of performance may single-handedly shift the perception on which direction the Preds are headed as a team. Likewise, Forsberg might feel more comfortable about committing to the Predators during his prime years.
But if it goes the other way, then the Preds suddenly have a tough decision. If this is the level of player that Forsberg’s going to peak at in Nashville, then Poile has to consider if Forsberg still fits into the team’s rebuild. He has to be cautious with personnel decisions. Forsberg will likely want a raise from his current $6 million AAV deal, and considering the Preds are already burdened with a couple of expensive, seemingly-unmovable contracts (not to mention the possibility of a hefty Shea Weber-induced cap penalty), the Preds may opt to invest that money elsewhere.