The Nashville Predators have had an up-and-down regular season, largely due to a slow start. With their roster decimated by injuries for much of the season, it might be tough to single out one player who is a worthy candidate to be the team’s Most Valuable Player. That being said, there have still been several standout performances that are very deserving of the honour.
While Connor McDavid seems to have the Hart Memorial Trophy locked up, the team nominees will be fascinating to see roll out, particularly as, since mentioned above, Nashville had so many injuries to top players. With the Predators making a solid push to clinch the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division, there could be many worthy candidates for the team’s MVP, but ultimately there can only be one winner of the award.
With time winding down in the regular season, and the Predators poised to make a playoff push, here are the top three candidates for the Predators’ MVP in the 2020-21 season.
In consulting with my fellow THW Predators’ writers, Juuse Saros was the unanimous choice for the team MVP this season. In looking at his impact and the numbers Saros has posted this season, it’s extremely difficult to argue with that.
Saros has posted a 20-10-1 record with a save percentage (SV%) of .928, a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.30 and three shutouts. The SV% and GAA are both the best of his career, and he has clearly taken over the crease as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender.
What makes Saros’s stat line even more impressive is how bad a start he had to the season. Granted, nobody on the Predators really looked great early on, but Saros, in particular, struggled, going 5-5 in the first two months of the season, posting an astronomical GAA of 3.37 in February. After missing a few games due to injury, Saros returned and has looked like a completely different goaltender.
The Finnish goaltender has gone 15-5-1 since his return, and has been a catalyst for the Predators’ surge up the standings and potential push to the playoffs. He went 12 games in a row while surrendering three goals or fewer, and hasn’t shown any of the shaky moments which plagued his first few starts. With multiple media outlets putting his name in the ring as a legitimate Vezina Trophy candidate, it makes sense that Saros could be the Predators’ MVP in 2020-21.
There is a lot of overlap between Saros and the Nashville captain in terms of shaky starts before an injury and looking dominant since their return. Roman Josi has re-discovered the form and level of play that won him the Norris Trophy only a year ago, and has been a huge reason in the Predators getting back into playoff position, becoming the highest-scoring Swiss player in league history.
Josi leads the team in assists and points, and has been an absolute demon on the power play and in overtime, with two goals in the extra frame and nearly half of his 33 points coming on the man advantage. His skating has been silky smooth since coming back from injury, and he has also been much more active in the rush carrying the puck up the ice, likely resulting in his offensive output over the last couple of months.
The run the Predators are on began with Josi out of the lineup, but since his return, he has been a dynamic producer and is someone who has once again become a huge difference-maker. He’s not likely to end up a Norris Trophy nominee thanks to the numbers that Victor Hedman and Tyson Barrie are putting up, as well as the emergence of the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox, but Josi will likely still earn himself a few votes for the award. Likewise, he’ll be a name consistently thrown into the ring for the Predators’ team MVP honour.
Okay, hear me out on this one, because Mikael Granlund isn’t as eye-catching a name as Saros or Josi, and he’s typically not a player we might think of when we think “team MVP.” But I genuinely think there is a strong case to be made for Granlund at least being in the conversation for being the team’s MVP this season.
Granlund has only missed two games this season, leads the team in goals with 13, and has played at least one game on a line with almost every forward on the roster. His versatility has allowed head coach John Hynes to play around with where Granlund appears on the depth chart, meaning he has constantly had to get used to new linemates throughout the season.
The benefit to his versatility has also led him to playing in every situation – even strength, power play, shorthanded, defending a lead, needing a tying goal late in the game – he has been the first forward over the boards for all of these circumstances. In looking at who leads the team in average ice time among forwards, it’s no surprise to learn that Granlund is on the top of that list.
Shooting percentage isn’t a statistic that gets talked about a lot, but Granlund has only taken 74 shots this season, so it is really impressive that he leads the team in goals despite taking almost half as many shots as players like Josi, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg. His net-front presence has played a large role in the Predators’ offensive success lately, which is something you would expect from a larger player than the diminutive Finnish centre.
Under normal circumstances, it’s logical to put Filip Forsberg and Eeli Tolvanen in the conversation for team MVP as well, but since they both missed significant time because of injuries, it stands to reason that Granlund, Josi, and Saros are the top three candidates for the honour in this pandemic-shortened season. With all of these potential MVPs in the lineup, it will be exciting to watch how the Predators can balance their lineup and wreak havoc on opponents in the playoffs.
Wray has been an NHL fan long enough to remember when Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were linemates, as well as when Colorado and Detroit had a brutal rivalry.
Wray has seven years’ experience serving as the Sports Writer for Mount Allison University’s student newspaper, The Argosy, as well as two years as the Sackville Tribune-Post’s student reporter. After covering football, basketball, and hockey at the university level, Wray worked for four years with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks in a behind-the-scenes capacity, and while currently living in New Brunswick (Canada), is doing lots of writing and podcasting for various topics, including CFL football, movies and television.