By all accounts, Filip Forsberg wants to stay in Nashville. By all accounts, the Nashville Predators want Filip Forsberg back in the fold next season. There should be mutual interest from all parties to get the prized forward to sign a new deal before the free agency window opens on July 13th.
There’s seemingly optimism that scenario could happen. John Hynes said in an interview with 102.5 The Game that he’s “optimistic” and “pretty confident” Forsberg will re-sign with the Predators. The fact that Forsberg has remained in Nashville during the off-season, random CMA Fest cameos and all, could be taken as a good sign he feels at home in the Music City and isn’t itching to uproot his life right now.
From a source, here's the full Filip Forsberg video from his appearance at CMA Fest last night.— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) June 12, 2022
It's not too spicy, but his tone and responses (and non-responses) are worth noting. #Preds pic.twitter.com/JyQPxaMdwP
But the fact of the matter is the longer Forsberg remains unsigned, the higher the possibility he hits the open market.
The Predators have stated their at least prepared for that scenario. David Poile said when the season ended that he had plans “B and C” if their star winger left for greener pastures. Poile has also stated he has no interest in a full, “tear-it-down” rebuild if Forsberg leaves, meaning whatever plans B or C are, it’ll likely involve the Preds re-stocking some firepower for next year’s squad in attempt to keep that small crack on the “contender window” open.
So, what would those plans be?
Option 1: Swing For the Fences (In Free Agency)
If you’re going to lose your big fish, it only makes sense to try and lure an even bigger fish out of the pond.
That’s why it would make sense that the Predators would be interested in Johnny Gaudreau, the crown jewel of this year’s free agency class. The Athletic even listed Nashville as one of Gaudreau’s more likely landing spots if he indeed departs the Calgary Flames.
In terms of a one-for-one replacement, Gaudreau isn’t just a fitting back-up plan for Forsberg, he may be the only upgrade on the market. The 28-year-old’s 115 points were tied for the second-most in the NHL this past season, and has a bit more consistency when it comes to these type of big-scoring seasons. And although he’s a year older than Forsberg, he’s still on the right side of 30, making a long-term contract acceptable.
Of course, teams besides the Predators also know all this, which means there will likely be a bidding war for Gaudreau’s services between contenders and rebuilding teams alike. Given his statline, one of those teams will likely be willing to give him a deal close to the megadeal Artemi Panarin signed just a few years ago. If the Predators are iffy on giving Forsberg north of $9.5M, would they be equally as hesitant to give Gaudreau close to $11M? And if you’re Johnny Gaudreau, is there a team out there closer to a Cup than the Predators willing to give him a sizable deal? Yeah, probably.
Outside of Gaudreau, there isn’t really an instant game-changer on the market. Nazem Kadri will command a big contract thanks to his 87-point season, but this season was more of a statistical anomaly. Claude Giroux is in the twilight of his career, and Evgeni Malkin and Patrice Bergeron aren’t signing anywhere other than Pittsburgh and Boston respectively.
Option 2: Swing For the Fences (Via Trade)
If you can’t get a game-changer on the open market, there are no shortage of them that are (reportedly) readily available on the trade block.
Among the names that could be up for grabs are Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat, who’s coming off his second career 40-plus goal season at just 24 years old. The Blackhawks are settling in for a long-term rebuild, and will likely shy away from a long-term contract. The Blackhawks may also look to trade Kirby Dach for the same reason. Vancouver’s J.T. Miller, who quietly put together a career-best 99-point season, is another marquee name who could wind up on the market as a casualty of Vancouver’s iffy cap situation. Don’t count out pending-RFA Patrik Laine, who had a bounce-back season after signing a one-year deal last summer, to price himself out of Columbus.
Any one of those guys would replace Forsberg’s firepower, but they wouldn’t be cheap replacements either. Chicago will want a hefty package of futures to help lay the foundation of their rebuild, while the Canucks will likely demand at least one up-and-coming player ready to play now.
The question for David Poile is how much he believes in the current crop of players, and how aggressive he’s willing to be to re-open their contendership window. The Preds’ prospect pipeline is fine, but by no means deep. Would Poile really considering parting with someone like Phil Tomasino or Luke Evangelista to reload a roster that would still have question marks across the board?
Option 3: Moneyball, Baby!
If you want to picture David Poile as Billy Beane, you can envision him dropping a “we can’t replace Filip Forsberg... but we might be able to re-create him in the aggregate.”
The truth is if the Preds don’t swing for the fences, it’s going to be hard to find another 42-goal scorer. Bringing in a few different players who can combine for 42 goals (and then some), however? That’s doable.
This year’s free agency pool is filled with guys who are more than capable of scoring 18-25 goals a year who’ll command a lot smaller price tag than others mentioned in this article. The Avs may struggle to pay both Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin, who scored 22 and 25 goals respectively. Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Ryan Strome, and Ondrej Palat are also players in that “secondary tier” of free agents that can come in and provide a reliable level of scoring, while someone like the Bruins’ Jake DeBrusk may be available via a more reasonable trade. Even some of the “grinders” on the market, like Nick Paul, Vlad Namestikov, or Frank Vatrano, could add some scoring punch from the Preds’ bottom six.
This is likely the Predators’ easiest and most attainable path to replacing Forsberg’s production, especially if those coming in can feed off of Roman Josi and Matt Duchene’s high level of play. The Preds, who have holes in a lot of different places on their roster, would be able to spread the wealth and use their cap space to address several needs.
If there’s a downside, it’s that this wouldn’t exactly be a “sexy” option, and you could potentially lose the luxury of having a bonafide top line that can score against anyone. Plus, there’s always that inherent risk of being stuck with a hefty contract if the player doesn’t work out. Luckily, Nashville doesn’t have much experience with that, amirite?
Hopefully, this article becomes obsolete in a couple of weeks. But if it doesn’t, and Forsberg does indeed depart the Preds, Poile will need to be bold in replacing him. Regardless of what happens, the Predators can ill afford to keep the status quo.
What would you like to see happen, Smashville?