It’s difficult to talk about the 2019-20 Nashville Predators without mentioning the captain, Roman Josi. It’s near impossible to discuss the team’s MVP without the Swiss defenceman being in the conversation. Scratch that, it’s completely impossible to have the MVP discussion without Josi.
Let’s get it out of the way early, Josi is the Predators’ MVP. In fact, if it wasn’t for an historic season from the Washington Capitals’ John Carlson, most may consider Josi as the slam dunk winner for the Norris Trophy this season.
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The 29-year-old defenceman may still be in the running for the award despite Carlson’s performance. Josi has been nothing less than elite this season. Although he may not come away with the Norris Trophy when the season concludes, Josi’s season should stop Carlson from being the unanimous winner for the league’s top defenceman.
But proclaiming Josi is the Predators’ MVP would rightfully garner a response such as, “well yeah, tell me something I didn’t know.” And the Josi for MVP campaign would be too easy. So, with that being said, who is the Predators’ MVP not named Roman Josi?
We should set the parameters for this discussion. For example, Filip Forsberg leads the team with 21 goals and his 48 points are second to only Josi’s team-leading 65. However, for his caliber, Forsberg has arguably experienced a down year, some may even say disappointing. But that aside, scoring over 20 goals is expected from Forsberg. So, although the Swedish sniper leads the team in goal-scoring, his performance has not been above and beyond what is expected.
For this conversation the nominees are the players who exceeded their role or had a standout year by their own personal standards.
Let’s meet the candidates.
Arguably a member of the All-Heart team, the speedy winger signed a two-year extension with the Predators on Feb. 24, a deal that he pretty much forced with his career-best season. Coming off a playoff series where he was the Predators’ one-man offence against the Dallas Stars, Grimaldi had to fight in arbitration to make a return to the team. The Anaheim native fought for what he considered fair value. Now it seems like the Predators are getting the most of that deal.
Grimaldi is tied for sixth amongst Predators’ forwards with 31 points, along side Craig Smith and Kyle Turris, players who earn more than four times as much. But just because Grimaldi has as many points as Smith and Turris doesn’t mean Nashville has a $4 million player for the cost of $1 million. It simply means Smith and Turris haven’t played to the level of their contract value.
However, when you compare Grimaldi to the rest of the team’s performance, the 27-year-old’s play is even more impressive. His points per-60 minutes ranks second on the team, behind Nick Bonino and he is only one of four players who average more than two points per-60. To give a little more perspective to Grimaldi’s efficient season, his 2.30 average lands him in the top-50 league-wide. As a side note, he is the 518th highest-paid player in the league.
Not only is Grimaldi offensively productive, he’s reliable. The former second-round draft pick’s goals-for percentage – the percentage of total goals scored while he was on the ice that the Predators scored – sits at 58.11 percent, which is better than Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene and Forsberg as well as ranking sixth-best teamwide with players who’ve played a minimum of 100 minutes.
It’s been said that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and Ellis’ presence was sorely missed after he was sidelined with a concussion following a hit to the head he took during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.
Due to his injury, Ellis has only suited up for 49 games this season. However, despite missing 20 games, the Predators’ defenceman is still fourth in team scoring, recording more points than players such as Ryan Johansen, Arvidsson and Mikael Granlund.
Ellis has certainly made the most of his time in the lineup. He is averaging 0.78 points per game, a feat bested only by Josi.
But, as nice as the offensive numbers are, you need your defenceman to be able to play, you know, defence. That’s where Ellis has continued to shine for the Predators. Despite having the second-highest time on ice (TOI) average, Ellis is still able to hold a plus/minus of plus-16, which is the fourth-best on the team. This in large part is due to the fact that the Hamilton, ON native has a goals-for percentage of 62.11 percent.
When looking at more advanced metrics, the story is pretty much the same. According to Natural Stat Trick, the 29-year-old’s 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage is 53.77, good for third-best on the team and slightly higher than Josi’s 53.40 percent. However, this can be taken a step further because of the nature of the offence for the majority of the year.
Under former coach Peter Laviolette, the Predators were an offensively-minded, shoot from anywhere type of team. Before making the head-coaching switch the Predators were averaging 34 shots per game, the fourth-highest in the league to that point. 19 of the 41 games Laviolette was in charge, the Predators recorded 35 shots or more. So, on the face of it, many Predators’ players had good-looking Corsi for ratings.
In order to get a more accurate look at Ellis’ Corsi for stats, we can use relative metrics. This is basically a player comparison to the rest of the team. How the Predators perform with Ellis on the ice versus when he sits on the bench. His 5-on-5 Corsi relative to his teammates currently sits at 2.95, meaning the team performs nearly three percentage points better with Ellis on the ice as opposed to when he’s on the bench.
Here we have the classic veteran that knows how to win and what it takes to be a champion. The two-time Stanley Cup champion certainly leads by example. He’s by no stretch a flashy player, but he shows he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win and encompass any role.
He’s always been defensively responsible and reliable. But this season, the player they call “Bones” was able to give a little more.
This season Bonino has scored 18 goals, just three back of Forsberg’s team leading 21. Despite being a predominantly third line player, he’s still driving the Predators’ offence. But, don’t think that Bonino has changed his style of play, he’s just been super efficient this season. The 32-year-old is not even in the Predators’ top-10 for shots on goal, yet he leads the team in shooting percentage. He is converting 17.3 percent of the time, which is also 18th best in the league among players who’ve suited up for 50 or more games this season.
Bonino’s impressive stats don’t end with his shooting percentage, he also leads the team in points per-60 with 2.49 and goals per-60 with 1.21. As we’ve already established, many Predators’ players have experienced a down year. But comparing Bonino’s averages to the rest of the league, his stats are still impressive. The centerman’s points per-60 is the 30th best league average and his goals per-60 ranks 24th among players who have played a minimum of 20 games.
With the third-most game-winning-goals on the team, Bonino’s contributions have certainly been seen when looking at the Predators’ season record.
Thanks to his stellar defensive ability and goal scoring touch, the former sixth-round pick ranks third on the team in goals for percentage with 62.67.
Again, although Bonino is finding the back of net more than usual, you can still rely on him to shut down the opposition. The Hartford, CT native is third on the team with a plus-17, while averaging the fifth-most minutes among forwards.
Winning the faceoff battle can be a massive key to controlling the game, and Bonino is certainly one the Predators’ best weapons in that facet of the game. He has won 52.6 percent of the draws he’s taken, which is the third-best among Predators who have taken a minimum of 100 faceoffs.
But, simply looking at Bonino’s overall faceoff percentage may be doing him a disservice. With the NHL’s offensively favored style of play, the advantage is given in the offensive faceoff participant. The defensive participant must be set first, which makes it a little more difficult to win faceoffs when defending.
Bonino leads the team with 459 faceoffs taken in the defensive zone, so its safe to say that the coaching staff trusts the centerman to get the team off on the right foot. And that trust has been rewarded, as Bonino’s defensive-zone faceoff win percentage also leads the team and is the 15th best mark in the league.
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Bonino has proven to be a versatile, all-around player. Consistency is one of the best skills to possess and it is certainly a trait synonymous with Bonino. Read most Predators’ media coverage and you’ll quickly learn that the team cannot really go wrong when calling his number.
We’ve come to expect this elite defensive play from Bonino, but it was mentioned earlier, we are looking for our MVP to go above and beyond. However, due to Bonino performing as one of – if not – the team’s best defensive forward, combined with his offensive surge this season, he is rightfully the Predators’ MVP not named Josi.
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. @A_Grant27