Do teams still count as top-heavy if the so-called “top” comprises just a single name? Because top to bottom, the Nashville Predators are not a playoff team… far from it. And yet captain Roman Josi has seemingly single-handedly willed them to within one point of a Western Conference wild-card spot.
Predators a Single Point out
Furthermore, the Predators have two games in hand on the eighth-place Calgary Flames. They’ve got three on the seventh-place Arizona Coyotes, who are also within striking distance, one additional point higher in the standings. Josi, who leads the Predators with 53 points in 53 games, 15 more than second-leading-scorer Filip Forsberg, is obviously a big reason for that.
The Predators impressively have four wins in their last five games. Not so impressively, though? They’ve won each of those four games by a single goal, getting outshot 138-125 in the process. In fact, if you take their 3-0 shutout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, which came in the middle of the “streak”, into account, they’ve really only tied the opposition 15-15 in those games. That isn’t exactly the mark of a deserving team.
Josi’s Hart Memorial Trophy Season?
What is, however, of a Hart Memorial Trophy candidate has been Josi’s play. Not just during the stretch, but overall. Nevertheless, in those five games, Josi has five assists. Granted, Forsberg (two goals, three assists) and Kyle Turris (one goal, four assists) have the same amount of points in those games, but there are two caveats.
Firstly, Josi is of course a defenseman, making his production arguably more impressive. Secondly, it’s his consistency that separates him from those two. Turris has transformed from a fringe top-line player from a production perspective during his days with the Ottawa Senators to a $6 million burden with the Predators, with just seven goals so far this season. Forsberg is about where you would expect him to be, but has gone two or more games without a point six times, once in fact during the team’s current 4-1 run.
All alone, it shouldn’t be considered an indictment of Forsberg’s offensive contributions. The Predators obviously need him and the Martin Erat trade that brought him to town continues to be one of the biggest steals in league history. The Predators simply need Josi more, because of the offense and defense he provides.
Josi vs. Carlson
Josi may realistically be in line for a James Norris Memorial Trophy nomination. After all, he is second among defensemen in scoring and there are of course three finalists. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. That award is Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson’s to lose, even if only because he is currently 12 points up on Josi and it’s always been a huge popularity contest. That’s how it’s always been and it’s not going to change during what could be a record season for Carlson.
So, give Carlson the nod there. However, where Josi has the edge is how Carlson has Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, etc. Hell, even if Braden Holtby’s turned into a statistical sideshow similar to Pekka Rinne, the Capitals are getting by thanks to the Calder Memorial Trophy-worthy season of backup goalie Ilya Samsonov.
The Predators don’t have nearly that much firepower and much of the talent they do have has conveniently taken this season as a collective opportunity to go MIA.
Josi the Sole Stand-Out on Predators
Turris you already know about, but his decline hasn’t been unique to this season. Mikael Granlund is getting significantly outscored by Kevin Fiala, the guy for whom he was traded. Everyone simply assumed the Predators would reap the benefits of the deal now, with Granlund poised to hit unrestricted free agency. Fiala meanwhile has one more season under contract before he becomes a restricted free agent.
In contrast, Matt Duchene has predictably disappointed as a free-agent signing and is scoring goals at the lowest pace of his career (0.22 per game). Add in Rinne’s struggles and the last season’s Central Division champs are understandably outside of a playoff spot as we speak. Counter all those shortcomings with Josi’s superhuman heroics, coincidentally justifying his new eight-year, $72.4 million extension in the process, and the Predators could just as easily slip into the postseason, albeit as heavy underdogs.
However they get there, assuming they do, Josi still deserves the Hart. Granted, if they miss out, there are candidates who would be far more deserving. However, much like Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore, who carried the Habs on his shoulders to the postseason in 2001-02, Josi would have delivered a season for the ages worthy of MVP honors.
Unlike Theodore, who also captured the Vezina Trophy, as voters (the league’s general managers) arguably ripped off Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy as the league’s actual best goalie, Josi shouldn’t necessarily get the Norris. The two awards can be mutually exclusive. Josi doesn’t have to be the league’s best defenseman to be the player who’s “the most valuable to his team.” His season to date is proof of that. The ending is what will seal it.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.