Despite all the rumors that Filip Forsberg would be traded before the deadline, he is still a Nashville Predator. Now come the talks of whether or not he will remain a Predator after the 2021-22 season. Memories of Ryan Suter leaving in 2012 to play in Minnesota with the Wild are still vivid. Will the Predators miss out on another big free agent? If they do, who will replace him?
What Forsberg Will Be Looking For
The 27-year-old Swede will be coming off a six-year, $36 million contract. Free agency starts on July 13, and it seems Forsberg will be looking for an eight-year deal worth $8 million per year. Through 54 games this season, he has already put up more points (66) than he has since entering the league in 2012. With 15 games remaining, he is likely to reach the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career and get very close to 80 points. He is in the prime of his career, and there are a lot of teams out there that would be more than willing to sign him to that kind of deal if Nashville cannot come to an agreement with the star forward.
It was made clear by both Forsberg and Predators general manager David Poile that contract negotiations would not take place during the season, and to this point, they have kept their word. Heading into the regular season’s final month, there is no reason to expect otherwise, either. If the two parties decide to part ways, it will be a pretty big hit to the roster but not a total loss. There are some pretty big names on the free-agent market that the Predators could land, along with some talented young players already on the roster who are looking to step up.
Tanner Jeannot has spent time on the third line this season and has solidified his place on the roster. Through 66 games, he has 40 points (23 goals, 17 assists). He has been playing on the right wing, but can also fill the left-wing slot should Forsberg move on. In his first full season with the Predators, he has surprised many with his play after spending the past two seasons in the ECHL and American Hockey League (AHL). Is he the best fit to replace an elite goalscorer like Forsberg? Probably not. But in an elevated role, playing on a line with Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, his size and physical play would be a healthy addition if he can stay out of penalty trouble.
Yakov Trenin is another player who could make a difference in an elevated role. He is an excellent passer and has the vision to turn into a big-time playmaker. However, his numbers aren’t very flashy this season, as he has also spent most of his time on the third line. Though sometimes the numbers can lie, especially on a team where most of the production comes from the top line.
Eeli Tolvanen has been spending time on the second line this season with Mikael Granlund and Luke Kunin. Numbers-wise, he had a better season last year, but that is not to say he isn’t another player that could fill the void should Forsberg take his talents elsewhere. For Tolvanen, scoring goals is in his blood. He may need to bulk up a little to take his game to the next level and try to fill the role of the Predator’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Zachary L’Heuruex is a promising young prospect; however, the team’s 2021 first-round pick may not crack the roster in the 2022-23 season as he is only 18 years old. Further development in Halifax with the Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) might be necessary. Through 40 games with Halifax this season, he has 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists). He is not afraid to get into the dirty areas and throw his body around. He could become the offensive force the Predators need should Forsberg depart.
Yegor Afanasyev is the 20-year-old winger that Nashville drafted in the second round of the 2019 Draft. He has spent this season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals, where he has put up 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 62 games. He may not be the answer for the top-line forward replacement, but he can fill a bottom-six role if any of the players listed above make the jump into the top six.
Potential Free-Agent Replacements
This offseason could feature some big names on the free-agent market outside of Forsberg, and the Predators may look to bring one of these other names to Music City if Forsberg walks.
Johnny Gaudreau will be looking for a big payday as well. He may even be looking at a higher number than Forsberg’s $8 million. Johnny Hockey, much like Forsberg, is having an incredible contract season. Through 61 games, he has 90 points (30 goals, 60 assists). However, after spending his first nine NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames, he may be looking for a new home because his game and the Darryl Sutter coaching style are two different animals. Sutter has always had big physical teams, and that’s just not Gaudreau.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ondrej Palat might also hit the market. Palat has been a critical piece in the team’s back-to-back Stanley Cups. Why would he leave the Lightning? Salary-cap constraints. The organization has already had to part ways with key veteran players, and Palat could be next. He wouldn’t bring the scoring that Forsberg does to Nashville. Still, the championship pedigree and experience playing on the top line with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point could make a massive difference to the organization.
Another potential free agent is Rickard Rakell. Rakell was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline and might be looking for a home this offseason. He has playoff experience and the goal scorer’s touch. His production has gone down since the 2017-18 season when he put up 69 points (34 goals, 35 assists), but that might be partly because the Ducks have also gone downhill since that season. He could bring some depth to the Predators’ roster at a lower cost than some of the other free agents and present an opportunity for the younger players on the roster to move up.
A Possible Opportunity for the Predators
It’s all hearsay at this point, and nobody really knows how the Forsberg situation will unfold. It may be hard to believe the Predators would let one of the faces of the franchise for the past eight years walk away for nothing. However, if the two teams decide to part ways, there are opportunities for replacements both on the team as well as in the open market.