The Predators and the Filip Forsberg Dilemma
It’s speculation season, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s safe to say at this point that the Nashville Predators have performed above the expectations that many fans had set for them before the season began. Plenty of “expert” rankings had the team sitting seventh in the Central Division, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes. Even I had them in that position. But with Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen—among other players—coming out of the funks that they were in under Peter Laviolette, and players like Tanner Jeannot making their rounds in the Calder Trophy talk, the Predators have skyrocketed toward the top.
In the offseason, Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg needed contract extensions. Ekholm signed his extension before the season began. Forsberg hasn’t...yet. There’s tons of talk on Twitter and among pundits about whether or not the Predators should trade the Swedish forward. Therein lies the dilemma and the crux of the conversation, since he has yet to sign a new deal. Should the Predators be willing to trade him? Or should they wait it out?
After the season began without an extension for Forsberg, it looked grim. With the Predators predicted to finish in the very bottom of the league, why would Forsberg want to stay on a rebuilding team when he could be moved to a team that’s contending for a Stanley Cup? Every player wants to win, and Forsberg is no different. Going through rebuilds is one of the hardest things professional athletes can handle. However, considering the Predators have been solid through the season, including a stint at the top of the Central Division, the thought that he might want to stay is gaining plenty of traction.
But if you’re David Poile and you need to make decisions, not only for the present of the franchise but the future as well, figuring out whether the Predators are performing at a sustainable level is vital.
As of now, the Predators are playing right where they are supposed to be. They sit fourth in the Central Division and in the first wild card spot, separated by one point from the Dallas Stars and tied with the Vegas Golden Knights with one game in hand. Their team numbers aren’t bad, but they’re not outstanding either. In goals for percentage (GF%) at 5v5, they sit ninth in the NHL with 54.24 percent. In expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at 5v5, their number drops to 15th in the NHL at 50.84 percent. Their shots for percentage (SF%) sits slightly below 50 percent at 49.62, which puts them in 17th in that category.
Even when the Predators were at the top of the Central Division, they were only there by points. If one were to sort by points percentage, they weren’t first. That’s not to say they were playing poorly. However, some of the hype was premature, considering they had played more games than teams like the Colorado Avalanche or Minnesota Wild.
We’ve looked at how the team is doing relative to the rest of the NHL, so now let’s look at Forsberg specifically. He’s killing it, and it’s pretty obvious. He has 46 points in 42 games, with 27 goals. If everything goes well, he will hit 30 goals and potentially break Viktor Arvidsson’s single-season franchise goal record (34). He’s on pace for 75 points in 69 games, and in a full season, that’s 89 points in 82 games. Playing with Mikael Granlund and Matt Duchene has transformed his game into the one we all knew was there but went untapped for the longest time.
Considering Forsberg has played far fewer games than the competition in the top of the goal-scoring category, goals per 60 minutes is more applicable here. However, in terms of raw numbers, he sits 14th in the league in goals, tied with Duchene, Steven Stamkos, Jake Guentzel, Dylan Larkin, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk. In goals per 60 (min. 400 TOI), Forsberg sits third in the entire NHL at 2.12. The players ahead of him? Auston Matthews (2.2), who is arguably the Hart Trophy favorite up to this point in the season (Igor Shesterkin exists, so that debate is for another time), and Chris Kreider, one of the league’s leading goal-scorers.
There is a caveat in the fact that he’s shooting an incredible 21.4 percent, 8.6 percent better than his career average. However, many would argue this is expected in a contract year from a player with raw skill like Forsberg. It’s also valid to speculate that playing under Laviolette damaged his shooting numbers. The fact remains that Forsberg is taking lower-danger shots and still scoring at a high rate.
It’s not just on the offensive side of the ice where Forsberg is picking it up. His defense has been strong. His line, in particular, thrives off of great defensive structure leading to high-danger offensive chances on the other end. Not one player on that line has a below-average expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60). Essentially, when all three of them are isolated using ridge regression thanks to the guys over at Evolving-Hockey, they are not giving up an excessive amount of high-danger chances on their end.
Forsberg has been an excellent all-around player in 2021-22. In points per 60, he’s 25th in the NHL. In goals above replacement (GAR), he’s 39th, and in expected goals above replacement (xGAR), he jumps up the leaderboard to fifth behind Matthews, Cale Makar, Connor McDavid, and Andrew Mangiapane.
So, what should be done?
There are three routes that Poile and his staff can take in this situation.
1. Re-sign Forsberg before the trade deadline
2. Don’t trade Forsberg at the deadline and pray he re-signs in the offseason
3. Trade Forsberg
Poile has expressed his desire to re-sign Forsberg, and obviously, Predators fans want him back in the Music City. Poile even said on 102.5 The Game, “I’m not trying to trade Filip Forsberg; I’m trying to sign Filip Forsberg.”
From the player’s perspective, Forsberg has expressed his desire to play out the last year of his deal in full.
On the one hand, it’s understandable. If you’re Forsberg, you want the best possible offer from any suitors, including the Predators. Although it does mean that he is considering other options, even if Nashville is at the top of his list. The goal was to get him signed before the season began. That didn’t happen.
The good news is that those comments were months ago, and it appears that as the season has gone on, Forsberg has sounded more optimistic about re-signing.
“I’d love to sign another one. But at the same time, it’s not all in my hands. It’s a team effort that we’re trying to work toward. The only thing I can focus on right now is just playing good hockey and trying to win games,” Forsberg said.
Re-signing Forsberg is going to come at a considerable cost, though. The 27-year-old will want plenty of money and most likely the max contract term of eight years, which means it would expire when he’s 35. $9 million at six years seems like good middle ground, but whether or not Forsberg’s camp will accept that is the issue.
The top two options end (hopefully) in the same result: Forsberg staying in Nashville. But what about the possibility of trading him?
It doesn’t look like the Predators will be contending for the Stanley Cup anytime soon. With the stacked upcoming draft classes and the amount that Forsberg could fetch at the deadline, this could be an excellent chance to upgrade the prospect pool even more without risking losing him for nothing in the offseason. It would be hard to see him go, but it might be the right choice in the long run. A package with a roster player, top prospect, and two high picks could be extremely enticing. Depending on which team is the potential partner, a first-round pick in 2022 or 2023 is enormous. Depending on the other party in the deal, the Predators may also have to retain salary, which could add something else to the package.
There are pros and cons to both outcomes.
Everyone knows what they’re getting if Forsberg comes back. However, the con is possibly adding another long-term contract that will expire when the player is in their mid-30s.
What are the pros of trading him? The package coming back could be instrumental in pushing the Predators towards Stanley Cup contention shortly. Adding a top prospect, roster player, and a high pick or two would provide the front office to add to the core of the future. However, losing Forsberg will be felt big time, not only on the ice but also among the fanbase. He’s a massive part of the team both on and off the ice, and seeing him go would be a significant gut punch to everyone involved.
The good news is that the Predators have the advantage. If they trade Forsberg, they get a haul of assets. If they don’t and he re-signs, they get him back for a long time to come. The only source of doubt should be not re-signing him before the deadline, not trading him, and him leaving in free agency over the summer. Even if that’s not likely, it’s still a possibility.
There are tons of factors to be considered if you’re in the general manager’s chair. The front office has tons of crucial decisions to make. Speculation is natural during this time of year, and I expect to see mountains of people on the edge of their seats as the fateful day creeps its way closer.