After a strong season where the Los Angeles Kings took a big step forward in their rebuild, making the playoffs and taking the Edmonton Oilers to Game 7, fans and the organization are optimistic about the next season. They’re also looking for ways to improve the team and take a further step forward. One name that comes up in this pursuit of improvement is Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg. There’s a possibility that he re-signs with the Predators, making this moot, but we’ll assume he hits free agency for this article. In the eyes of many fans, he should be the team’s number one target this summer, but I would argue that the team should not pursue him, and here’s why.
Forsberg Will Be Overpaid This Summer
Before discussing why Forsberg will be overpaid this summer, I will say this, he is an excellent, elite forward in the NHL and deserves much of the praise he is getting. However, someone is going to overpay for him based on his unsustainable 2021-22 season. One of the main reasons fans are so high on Forsberg is his 42 goals in 69 games, a 50-goal pace. With the Kings in desperate need of added goalscoring, an acquisition like him seems perfect.
The issue with this is that it’s very unlikely he replicates anywhere near that level of production. Forsberg finished this season with an incredible 15.1 goals above expected, the fifth-highest number in the league, pointing to an unsustainable goalscoring season from him. While it’s true that the league’s elite goalscorers can routinely outperform their expected goals number by a wide margin, his previous career high of 5.3 goals above expected back in 2014-15 would not leave me confident in his ability to replicate his 2021-22 season.
His 18.6 percent shooting percentage (S%) is good, but as I’ve said in the past, goals above expected is a better measure of how sustainable a player’s scoring is. He didn’t just provide goals this season, he finished the year with 42 assists in his 69 games as well, leaving hope that he could at least replicate that level of playmaking. Unfortunately, that’s also unlikely. Forsberg wasn’t the only Predator player to outperform his expected goals and score at an unsustainable rate. Matt Duchene, who spent most of the season on Forsberg’s line, also had an outlier season. Duchene finished with 8.2 goals above expected and an 18.8 percent S%. Playing on a line with someone who isn’t scoring 42 goals and heavily outperforming their expected goals will hurt Forsberg’s point totals as a whole.
Related: Kings Front Office Facing a Summer of Tough Decisions
As I said, he is an excellent player in a normal season, posting a career 82-game average of 32 goals and 36 assists for 68 points. However, that’s a big drop off from his 50-goal, 50-assist, and 100-point season he was on pace for. There is another worry outside of his unsustainable production as well — his worrisome injury history. Forsberg hasn’t completed a full season in six seasons, going back to 2016-17. He’s also missed more than 10 games in five of those six seasons. So, not only can a team be confident he won’t replicate his production from the 2021-22 season, but they also have to be confident in him missing time during the season. Given the contract he’s looking for, that is an issue.
What would that contract look like? Most people agree that the starting point for him will be somewhere around $9.5 million for seven years. Considering he will be a hot commodity this offseason, with several teams after his signature, I’d be confident in saying that the contract ends up being in the $10 million-plus range. If he’s a 50-goal, 100-point player again and healthy, he’s more than worth that contract. If his health issues continue and he goes back to being a 32-goal, .82 points-per-game player, any team would be drastically overpaying him. He will also be 28 years old by the start of next season and rarely does a player’s health improve as they move into their 30’s.
There’s a real possibility his health issues get worse, and by the end of his contract, the team would be paying an injury-prone player who doesn’t bring anywhere near his past production $10 million-plus a season. That’s the kind of contract that can cripple a team and undo so much of the excellent work Rob Blake and his team have done during this rebuild. Of course, this could be Forsberg’s new level and his health issues are behind him, meaning the Kings will be one step closer to returning to Cup contention. Based on the numbers, this is very unlikely and not worth the risk.
The Kings Have Other Options to Improve the Offense
Another reason it isn’t worth pursuing Forsberg, given the massive contract he will command, is the other options available to them. If the team is determined to add goals externally, there will be several options this summer. One of Valeri Nichuskin or Andre Burakovsky will likely be available from the Colorado Avalanche, as they need to free up cap space. Other names such as Mason Marchment, Brock Boeser, or Jake DeBrusk would also be available via free agency or trade. None of them bring the pedigree of Forsberg, but will be much cheaper and will add goals to the team’s top six.
The other option is trusting that the team’s prospects will step up. The Kings have famously stockpiled an incredible pipeline of forward prospects and they shouldn’t ignore that. A player like Arthur Kaliyev could easily add an extra 10-plus goals to the team if moved into the top six and top power-play unit permanently next season. The team has goalscorers in the organization, they just need to develop them a little further. The chances that neither Kaliyev nor Samuel Fagemo become reliable top-six goalscorers are very unlikely, while a player like Martin Chromiak has the potential to do the same. I’ll touch on this later, but the team doesn’t need to go all-in on a Forsberg-type player this summer; they can wait for one of the prospects to step up. Last season, prospects Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence both stepped up when injuries hit the defense hard, and there’s no reason to think the forward prospects can’t do the same.
The other thing to remember is that the team doesn’t need one player to step up and score 40 goals next season. While the lack of goals from the top six was a problem, the lack of goals from the bottom six was an issue as well. Amongst players who were exclusively bottom-six forwards, only Kaliyev and Lizotte broke 10 goals. This team needs more from the bottom of their lineup and they can expect improvements internally. With the aforementioned pipeline of forwards, they will get more depth in scoring.
I would be confident in saying players like Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari, Gabe Vilardi, and even someone like Carl Grundstrom will all improve on last season’s goal totals. Of course, it’s possible one or more of those players are moved, but the point still stands, young players will continue to improve. There’s also the option of adding goals to the blue line, if the team adds a dynamic left-shot defenseman who can score from the point, that also helps alleviate the pressure. Would adding a 40-goal scorer be huge? Of course, but I don’t think one is realistically available this summer, and the Kings shouldn’t feel pressured into getting a superstar like that right now.
Kings Need to Be Realistic About Next Season
This is the section most fans won’t want to read. Fans are understandably excited about what was a great season, and they should be, but that doesn’t mean the team should go out and make big win now moves this summer. There needs to be some level of pragmatism about this summer and understanding about where this team is at. Adding Forsberg doesn’t make this team a Cup contender. I’d argue even if the team managed to add Forsberg and a defenseman like Jakob Chychrun, this team still wouldn’t be a Cup contender. Even with additions like that, this team isn’t on the same level as the truly elite teams like the Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning, or Florida Panthers. I’d say they would be barely scratching the tier below that as well; they’d be on a similar level, possibly even a little weaker, than teams like the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues.
There are a lot of comments that getting Forsberg would be this Kings team’s version of the 2011 trade for Mike Richards, but this team is not in the same position. The 2011-12 team had three elite players under 26 years old and a 25-year-old Jonathan Quick hitting his prime. This Kings team is still waiting on their prospects to take the next step, and outside of Drew Doughty, don’t have a truly top-tier, elite player. It’s also important to remember that for every Richards acquisition that brings immediate success, there’s a Milan Lucic trade that backfires and sets the team back. Of course, Forsberg would be a free agent signing and not a trade, but it still has a similar risk-reward element. Now is not the time to risk making that type of acquisition. Even if it was, that move should be for an elite left-shot defenseman, not a forward.
Conservatism and trusting the process have got the team this far and now is not the time to abandon that plan, especially for a risk like Forsberg. They can afford to slowly build into being a Cup contender, regardless of moves made this summer, they’re still waiting on prospects such as Byfield, Kaliyev, and Brandt Clarke to step up before they can contend for the Cup. Chasing stars is fun, but as the Vegas Golden Knights proved this season, it can quickly backfire and the grass is not always greener. There will be time for a big move, and they could make a splash this summer by trading for a Chychrun or Ivan Provorov on the back end, but Forsberg should not be their big target.
Blake Deserves Full Trust
All of this being said, I will have absolute faith in whatever decision Blake makes. He has done an excellent job rebuilding this team and I’m sure he’ll continue to make smart moves. If he feels Forsberg is a must-get, even though I don’t agree, I will trust in Blake. It will be very interesting to see what happens this summer, and I would expect some serious improvement.