The 2018-19 regular season has come and gone, and for the Nashville Predators, it was a successful season. Since the regular season is over, it’s time to look back and hand out some team-specific hardware. Introducing the Predators’ 2018-19 season awards.
Most Valuable Player: Viktor Arvidsson
While there are other candidates, there’s only one player worthy of being named Predators’ MVP, and that’s Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson totaled 34 goals and 48 points in 58 games, leading the team by six goals. His 34 goals set a single-season franchise record. He scored a goal in 26 of his 58 games, with the Predators winning 19 of them.
Related: Predators’ 2018-19 Mid-Season Awards
Most impressive is that 29 of his goals were scored at even strength, tied for ninth-most in the league. Additionally, his .59 goals per game were third-highest after Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl. Had Arvidsson played more than 58 games and maintained his goal-scoring pace, he would have finished with 48 goals, which surely would put him in the Hart Trophy discussion for league MVP. Given how much the Predators struggled to score this season, Arvidsson was the only consistent goal scorer and carried the team for much of the season.
Newcomer of the Year: Dan Hamhuis
The Predators didn’t have a lot of turnover from last season. The only offseason signings who reached the NHL were Rocco Grimaldi, Dan Hamhuis and Zac Rinaldo. The Predators acquired Brian Boyle, Mikael Granlund, Cody McLeod and Wayne Simmonds at the trade deadline, plus Dante Fabbro and Rem Pitlick joined the team after their college seasons ended, but none matched Hamhuis’ impact.
Last offseason, Hamhuis signed a two-year deal to return to the Predators, the team that drafted him in 2001. He missed time in late October/early November and missed nearly all of March, so his 57 games played and five points (all assists) aren’t much. But it’s his impact on the third pair, stabilizing a unit that struggled and wasn’t used much last season. He starts in the defensive zone a majority of the time, averaged 1:41 on the penalty kill and generally played with not great defense partners in Anthony Bitetto, Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber. He even played in P.K. Subban’s spot on the second pair during Subban’s lengthy absence.
But Hamhuis’ biggest impact this season occurred late in the regular season after Fabbro turned pro. Because Fabbro was joining a team with Stanley Cup aspirations during the stretch run, it would have been easy for head coach Peter Laviolette to not play Fabbro and instead maintain the status quo. However, what Laviolette did was give him a veteran partner in Hamhuis, which allowed for Fabbro to have a relatively seamless transition. Knowing that he has a reliable partner has given Fabbro confidence to play his game and not worry about making mistakes, and it’s paid off. Hamhuis even earned the secondary assist on Fabbro’s first career goal on April 6.
Most Improved Player: Colton Sissons
If you take most valuable player at its literal definition, you could argue that Colton Sissons has been the Predators’ MVP this season. But even though I snubbed Sissons for MVP, there’s no denying he was the team’s most improved player. With a team like the Predators that has a roster full of realized potential, it’s not often a player dramatically improves, yet that’s what Sissons did in 2018-19.
In 75 games this season, he had 15 goals, 30 points, was a plus-20 and won 53.1 percent of faceoffs. He also had a plus-10 turnover differential, a 52.5 percent shot share and a 59.4 percent goal share. By comparison, last season, in 81 games, he had nine goals, 27 points, was a plus-two and won 55.3 percent of faceoffs. He had a minus-five turnover differential, a 50.9 percent shot share and a 49.2 percent goal share. He’s emerged from being a role player to someone counted on to play and produce in all situations.
Defenseman of the Year: Mattias Ekholm
With a defense corps like the Predators have, it’s difficult for one defenseman to stand out. While any could be named the team’s defenseman of the year any season, Mattias Ekholm gets it for 2018-19. In 80 games, he had eight goals and a career-high 44 points. He was a plus-27, which tied for the team-lead, and had a 54.6 percent shot share and a 57.0 percent goal share.
He averaged two minutes per game on the penalty kill and over one minute on the power play. As an all-around defenseman whose best asset is defending, especially in one-on-one situations, Ekholm thrived this season. His 6.1 defensive point shares tied for second among NHL defensemen. He’s a great skater, puts himself in the right position, knows what to do with and without the puck and has underrated offensive tools. He put it all together in 2018-19.
Defensive Forward of the Year: Nick Bonino
The Predators are a team that asks its best offensive contributors to also play tough defensive minutes. Each member of the top line – Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Arvidsson – all play consistently on the penalty kill and are deployed in all situations. But it’s a player not depended upon for his offensive production who was the team’s best defensive forward this season, Nick Bonino.
Bonino is the center the Predators turn to when they need a defensive zone faceoff won or when they’re trying to hold onto a lead. In 81 games this season, he was a plus-27, won 51.8 percent of faceoffs and started in the defensive zone 69.6 percent of the time. He was worth a career-high 2.5 defensive point shares, which was the highest among Predators forwards and tied for ninth among NHL forwards. But he also contributed offensively with 17 goals and 35 points, including three power-play goals. When you combine his defensive and offensive impacts, 2018-19 was Bonino’s best season.
Biggest Surprise: Rocco Grimaldi
Like the most improved player award, there weren’t a lot of places on the Predators’ roster for surprises to occur. Sure, not many would have expected Arvidsson, Bonino and Sissons to bring the offense they did this season, but their performances weren’t too much of a stretch. Instead, Rocco Grimaldi was the team’s biggest surprise this season.
Signed to a one-year, two-way contract last offseason, Grimaldi was expected to spend most of the season in the AHL. However, as injuries piled up in the early portion of the season, he found himself playing in the NHL on a regular basis. The result was him setting a career high in basically every category, including games played (53), goals (5) and points (13). In fact, his totals from 2018-19 either tied or surpassed his career totals entering this season.
He has pretty much exclusively played in the bottom-six and has brought speed and defensive responsibility to the lineup. This showed in Games 2 and 3 of the first round of the playoffs when Grimaldi’s speed gave the Dallas Stars fits. Furthermore, in the dying moments of Game 3 and trying to preserve a lead, Laviolette deployed Grimaldi, indicating his trust in the surprising player.
Biggest Disappointment: Kyle Turris
There were several contenders for biggest disappointment of 2018-19. Ryan Ellis, Calle Järnkrok and Subban come to mind, but only Kyle Turris is truly worthy of being called the team’s biggest disappointment. Since joining the Predators in Nov. 2017, Turris has 20 goals and 65 points in 120 games. This season he had seven goals, 23 points, was a minus-six and had a minus-seven turnover differential in 55 games. He was only worth 1.4 point shares. He finished 13th on the team in points and tied for 13th in goals.
That’s unacceptable production for a player with a $6 million cap hit, tied for second among Predators forwards. That doesn’t include how the team gave up two prospects and a second-round pick to land Turris. He was acquired to be a productive second-line center, providing depth behind Johansen down the middle. However, he’s been nothing of the sort, and instead has been a massive letdown.
What Do You Think?
I think I did pretty well handing out player awards for the 2018-19 season. I tried to be as objective as possible and feel I was successful in doing so. Let me know what your thoughts are on my award picks, as well as who you think the team’s playoff MVP has been so far.
My name is Kyle, and although I’m from Pennsylvania and grew up a Penguins fan, I cover the Predators here at The Hockey Writers. And while I would consider myself a Predators fan, I really enjoy watching all hockey and try to always take an objective approach to things. In addition to covering the Preds, I write hockey history and some statistical analysis pieces as well as book reviews.