Two months ago, the Nashville Predators were swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the eventual champions, the Colorado Avalanche. As bittersweet as the early exit was, Predators fans have many reasons to be excited about the future. The team has a surplus of young talent earning valuable experience, certain players rebounded into career years, and goaltender Juuse Saros emerged as an all-star. By definition, Nashville made strides in becoming a better team and could serve as a contender in years to come.
The one constant question on everyone’s mind was the status of Filip Forsberg‘s contract. After hitting 40 goals and becoming the team’s all-time goal-scoring leader, fans grew eager over whether he’d be back. General manager David Poile put that to rest with Saturday’s announcement of an eight-year, $70 million deal which will pay the 27-year-old winger an AAV (average annual value) of $8.5 million per season. The contract makes him the highest-paid forward on the team, tying up almost 30 percent of the team’s total cap to three forwards.
Bringing back the band for another season was the right move, but Poile has also made an effort to add some meat to the bone to shake things up and provide more opportunities for the youth movement on the rise. Off the backs of a successful season that went awry in the playoffs, the Predators could be back for another run at the Cup as soon as next season.
No Mistake About Bringing Filip Forsberg Back
The sense in the air in Nashville was that Forsberg wanted to return, as rumours circulated for two months on both sides engaging in contract negotiations. Once word got out that the two sides were close, most of the fanbase couldn’t contain their excitement over the possibility of the Swedish winger carrying out most of his career as a member of the Predators. It took a no-movement clause to be part of the deal, something Poile isn’t overly fond of, but the stipulation was a necessary evil to keep him around until the turn of the next decade.
The value Forsberg brings to the table far exceeds his ability to score goals, but let’s bring some attention to that asset for a moment. In 69 games last season, Forsberg’s 42-goal season brought him to a .61 goals-per-game pace, placing him fifth in the league. Outscored by only Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Chris Kreider, and Alex Ovechkin, his 32 goals at even strength placed him in the top ten in the league, earning him a reputation as a threat in all situations. The intangibles extend beyond, as his presence in the lineup affects the minutes distributed throughout all four lines and how opposing teams match up against them.
There’s no doubt that the emergence of Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen helped, along with Forsberg and Duchene wreaking havoc, the ice opened up for the third line of Yakov Trenin, Colton Sissons, and Tanner Jeannot. At various points throughout the season, Nashville constantly had three lines rolling, creating momentum with the occasional fourth-line shift to get the crowd cheering with a thunderous hit. In terms of cap hit, there’s much to be desired when considering the comparables over the last ten years.
|Player (Team)||Contract Terms||AAV (+ % of cap)|
|Filip Forsberg (Nashville)||$68,000,000 – 8 years (2022)||$8.5 million/year (10.3%)|
|Jeff Skinner (Buffalo)||$72,000,000 – 8 years (2019)||$9 million/year (11.32%)|
|Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay)||$68,000,000 – 8 years (2016)||$8.5 million/year (11.64%)|
|Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia)||$66,000,000 – 8 years (2015)||$8.25 million/year (11.55%)|
|Jamie Benn (Dallas)||$76,000,000 – 8 years (2016)||$9.5 million/year (13.01%)|
|Mark Stone (Vegas)||$76,000,000 – 8 years (2019)||$9.5 million/year (11.95%)|
|Phil Kessel (Toronto)||$64,000,000 – 8 years (2013)||$8 million/year (12.44%)|
All players listed above signed their deals between the ages of 25-28, were coming off great years statistically and were given the trust with a long-term contract that tied them to over 10 percent of the team’s cap hit in the year they signed. Stamkos stands out as the best of the crop, having won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning and recording two 40-goal seasons. The rest of the group falls off, with Kessel routinely scoring at least 20 goals on his new deal and Benn hitting 30 goals once.
Forsberg has the benefit of returning to a similar-looking roster and plays for a market that isn’t as cut-throat as some of the teams listed above. As a result, he stands to repeat his success from last season. Add to the fact that Nashville seems to be improving in their top-nine and defensive core, plus a goaltender returning after an All-Star season, and the contract feels like somewhat of a hometown discount, at least for now.
McDonagh and Lauzon Improve Defensive Depth
While the cost to acquire Jérémy Lauzon was steep — a 2022 2nd-round pick, there was no denying what he brought to the table. A more-disciplined approach, physical in corners, and a monumental improvement in ability over Philippe Myers and Ben Harpur, Lauzon was the refresher that the Predators’ blue line desperately needed. His new deal was justified and essentially replaced the cap hit of Myers’ deal, who they packaged with 23-year-old Grant Mismash for defenseman Ryan McDonagh. The left side on defense is heavily packed now with McDonagh, Lauzon, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm involved.
Lauzon’s new deal of $2 million per season over the next four years is a digestible, cap-friendly contract considering what he offers the Predators. The cap may go up between now and the end of his contract, and it’s an easy deal to move on from in the final year or two, should Nashville fall off the map. McDonagh’s contract makes him the third defenseman to make over $6 million on the team, but his veteran presence and Stanley Cup experience shouldn’t be undermined. Poile has created a solid veteran group of blueliners that can help the younger players like Lauzon, Dante Fabbro, and Alexandre Carrier, making their top-six a good combination of the present and future.
Potential Roster Spots For Predators’ Youth Movement
At the NHL Draft, Poile parted ways with forward Luke Kunin in a deal to acquire some cap space, along with prospect John Leonard and a 2023 third-round pick. On the surface, the trade meant one less restricted free agent to sign, more money to play with in terms of signing Forsberg, and having some room to add during free agency. It also means the Predators currently have ten forwards under contract and three restricted free agents left to sign, including Trenin. With four spots locked up in the Predators’ top-six, and a third line that should be left untouched, there are still a few places left to challenge.
Last month, Markus Nurmi signed a one-year entry-level contract with Nashville after completing his fourth season with TPS of the Finnish Liiga. He’s 24 years old, hasn’t received a shot in the NHL yet, and is a defensive-minded forward capable of playing the penalty kill. He’s an essential piece to what could be a bottom-six that can limit the opposition’s shots and take care of penalty troubles. He’s a mountain of a man at 6-foot-5 and loves to use his intimidating frame to engage in corner battles.
Cody Glass is another name that comes to mind after signing a one-year deal, and the Predators may want to see what he can offer. The problem is, where can they fit him into the lineup to allow him the opportunity to prove his worth? He is at his best when utilized at the centre position, where his two-way game can blossom, but his talents would essentially wither away on a fourth line. There’s the potential to put him in Sissons’ spot, but a mix-up could have a negative return on the third-line chemistry built over last season.
The future isn’t as far away from knocking on the door as some may think, with the likes of Jáchym Kondelík (22), Juuso Pärssinen (21), and Luke Evangelista (20) all making excellent strides in their development. It won’t be long before their talents are too good for the American Hockey League, and their services are best suited for the NHL. In the next three years, when those three individuals are nearing the age of 25, both Johansen and Mikael Granlund will be off the books, creating the chance of a lifetime for offensive-minded players.
When the Predators were eliminated from this year’s playoffs, many of the faithful called for the dismissal of Poile after 23 years of no Stanley Cups and only one Final appearance. He’s redeemed himself with a promising draft, retaining his star forward and making wise investments through trades. They are a better team heading into next season, at least on paper. It’s time to give them, and to a lesser extent, Poile, the benefit of the doubt.