A disappointing post season sweep compliments of the Western Conference Champion Colorado Avalanche left many Predators fans wrestling with several questions about the 2021-2022 season in Smashville. It was a season of ups and downs, highs and lows for the Nashville Predators, and when the dust settled several lingering questions remain.
Now that the offseason is here, it’s time to wrestle with the questions that arise when looking ahead. Probably one of the biggest questions (aside from “where will Filip Forsberg be?”) revolves around those players who played some of the best hockey of their careers. Roman Josi, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, and Juuse Saros each had strong seasons for the Predators. Now the question becomes, which of these players are likely to repeat their amazing performances again next season?
Josi had one of his best seasons in 2021-2022. Career highs in goals (23) and assists (73) led to his franchise record 96 points. Of those 23 goals, 11 came on the power play - an area of the Predators’ game that finally saw serious improvement last season. Josi’s outstanding performance resulted in his name being mentioned alongside the likes NHL defensive legends Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, and Ray Bourque. His impressive offensive performance and solid performance defensively led to Josi being named a Norris Trophy finalist. Is there any way Josi can repeat such a record setting season next year?
Despite being the ripe old hockey age of 31, Roman Josi is still in his hockey prime, and it isn’t likely that we’ll see a dramatic drop off in his performance next season. But to be fair, achieving or surpassing this season’s record setting numbers will be a difficult challenge. His 1.20 points per game average this season (eleventh best in the league) is a great mark to aim for but a tough number to duplicate in back to back seasons for a defenseman. There is no doubt that Josi will continue to be one of the Predators best players on the ice in 2022-2023, but he won’t repeat that level of play next season.
One of the most exciting (and perhaps surprising to some) standout 2021-2022 performances belongs to Matt Duchene. Some of the Predators fan base had already written the $8 million dollar center off as a failed pet project for General Manager David Poile, but Duchene proved the doubters wrong this season.
Duchene looked like a new man at training camp last September. He was more physical, more confident, and skating on a line with Mikael Granlund and Filip Forsberg. Granlund, Forsberg, and Duchene proved to be Nashville’s best line with Forsberg and Duchene battling for the franchise’s single season goal record. Ultimately, Duchene set the record with his 43 goals. Sixteen of those goals came on the power play, the team’s high scorer on the man advantage.
Duchene’s fantastic season left many in Smashville scratching their head and wondering if his offensive production was an anomaly or if Duchene finally found his groove after a chaotic first few seasons with the Predators. Duchene could potentially have another 40-goal season in 2022-2023, but whether he can be as productive offensively hinges on one thing - whether Filip Forsberg will be back in a Predators uniform.
Speaking of Forsberg...
The figurative dark cloud hanging over Bridgestone Arena this offseason is the result of Forsberg’s uncertain future in Nashville. Forsberg had the stereotypical “contract season”, breaking the 40 goal mark and set the franchise history record for goals. Both Poile and Forsberg’s reps say the goal is to keep #9 in Nashville, but negotiations haven’t produced a signed contract yet. Forsberg’s standout season should help his negotiating position, but is it repeatable?
One of the complaints about Forsberg in the past has been his inconsistency. His recent seasons have been punctuated by multiple hot and cold streaks leaving fans to wonder which Filip Forsberg will show up on the ice. Once the “contract year” pressure is off, Forsberg needs to prove that he has broken that pattern. Forsberg’s 42 goals, 42 assists, and 84 points career high was a significant jump over his previous career highs. Like Duchene and Josi, Forsberg may not reach those record setting stats next season, but expectations should still be high for the 27 year old forward. Forsberg missed thirteen games this season, so if he stays healthy, reunites with Duchene and Granlund in Nashville, and plays with the consistency we saw this season, he’ll be chasing forty goals again.
All eyes have been on Juuse Saros since he transitioned to the starting netminder job in Nashville. His 2021-2022 performance resulted in a .918 save percentage and being named a Vezina Trophy finalist. Saros finished the season with four shutouts and a 2.64 goals against average. Unfortunately, he also finished the season with an ankle injury that left back ups David Rittich and Connor Ingram in net for the playoff series with the Avalanche. While it isn’t likely that the Predators could have come out on top of their first round series against a blisteringly hot Colorado team, Saros may have stolen at least a game or two to make the series more competitive and the first round loss more palatable.
Saros played 67 games this season - the most by any goaltender in the league. While his ankle injury was not a direct result of overwork as some have speculated, the Predators didn’t have a back up they felt fully confident in with David Rittich. It’s true that Saros is a net minder who does better with consistent play. If the Predators bring up Connor Ingram as the back up and give Saros a slightly lighter workload - around sixty games next season - Saros will again be a part of the Vezina conversation next season.