According to Andy Strickland of Bally Sports Midwest, the Nashville Predators are actively shopping star forward Filip Forsberg. The 27-year-old is in the final year of his six-year deal, and is likely to have his salary rise from the current $6-million he makes. General manager David Poile will have just under $25 million in cap space to work with for the upcoming offseason, but with only eight forwards signed into next season, there is an elevated risk of running the team into salary cap troubles. The timing is unfortunate, with Pekka Rinne‘s jersey retirement ceremony on the horizon, and the Stadium Series game just a few days away.
Forsberg is setting a career-high pace in offensive production with 44 points (26 goals, 18 assists) in 38 games this season. Considering the 31 games remaining, it’s not impossible to think he’ll break through his 64-point high, set back in 2015-16, and again in 2017-18. His current shooting percentage of 23.2 is unsustainable, but his work ethic and drive to the net put him in a good position to hit the 30-goal mark for just the third time in his career. Whether he reaches that plateau with the Predators remains to be seen, although this isn’t the first time his name is involved in trade rumours.
Options on the Wing Without Forsberg
Considering the notion that Forsberg is no longer on the team, the depth chart on the Predators isn’t as shallow as one may think. The injection of youth with names like Eeli Tolvanen, Tanner Jeannot, and Yakov Trenin has positively impacted the team’s style, while players like Nick Cousins and Mathieu Olivier have shown they’re capable of filling a role when called upon. Should Forsberg be traded, head coach John Hynes has several options at line juggling, including bumping wingers like Jeannot or Tolvanen to the top line and allowing them to show what they can do.
Poile must also consider the future on his wings, with commodities like Luke Evangelista, Juuso Pärssinen, and Zachary L’Heureux in the trenches, paving their way to becoming full-time NHL players in the next couple of years. A multi-year deal for Forsberg could handcuff the team when giving chances to their youth, much like we saw with the Chicago Blackhawks nearly a decade ago. Three Stanley Cups in five years is something Nashville fans would welcome in a heartbeat, but the many years to follow of re-constructing lineups and trading away players to save money can have a lasting effect on a team’s ability to compete.
The return could also bring in a player and a prospect that could contribute to the team and fill the void left behind by Forsberg, and there won’t be a shortage of general managers who will show interest in acquiring him. There’s also the idea of signing a free agent in the offseason at a cheaper rate, although the upcoming class of unrestricted free agents who play the wing and make less than Forsberg does not look promising.
Forsberg Brings Offense and More Offense
If fans are wondering whether Forsberg is worth the money he’ll command this off-season, which predicts to be well over the $6 million he currently makes, the simple answer is; Well, yes. His 26 goals this season — six of which are game-winners — in 38 games are a tell-tale sign of how potent of a threat he can be when he’s healthy. The ridiculous shooting percentage of 23.2% may not hold up between now and the season’s end, but even if it drops by 10 percent, it would still be the highest total in the last four years and third-highest in his career.
In the chart produced by HockeyViz’ Micah Blake McCurdy, Forsberg’s play in the offensive zone generates a surplus of shots that hit the net, as well as high-danger scoring chances. Comparing his +0.11 xGF/60 (expected goals for per 60) to his defensive +0.03 xGA/60 (expected goals against per 60), fans get the sense of how useful he has been for the Predators at both ends of the ice. Something else that is glaring from the charts listed is his penalty-drawn percentage of +62% compared to the -30% penalties taken. On the most penalized team in the league that struggles with killing them off, Forsberg’s ability to stay out of the box is monumental to the team’s success at even strength.
Career-wise, Forsberg’s Corsi and Fenwick numbers remain within the high-50s to low-60s, indicating he drives possession forward whenever he’s on the ice. His on-ice goals for per 60 sits at 5.0 this season, compared to 2.8 against, while his PDO in all situations is currently at 103.5. Should that hold, it becomes the second-best recording of that statistic for him in the last four seasons. As Phil Curry of the Toronto Star points out, it’s not uncommon for a player to perform beyond expectations during a contract year, but Forsberg’s offensive production and puck possession metrics have remained consistent throughout his career.
What the Return Should Be
There are two options when it comes to trading away someone like Forsberg. General managers either pull off a hockey trade and deal a star player for another, or they acquire a package of picks and prospects that will improve your team in the future. If it’s the former, the Predators may be acquiring someone who may also need a contract and subsequent pay raise, which puts Poile in the same position if he were to keep Forsberg. The more intriguing option is building towards building a competitive team for years to come. In that case, any return for a player of Forsberg’s calibre begins with a first-round selection at the upcoming 2022 entry draft. If it doesn’t, the phone call needs to come to an abrupt end, and that team is out of the running unless they can provide an additional prospect that entices enough.
If Poile packages Forsberg and a conditional pick, acquiring a package centered around a first-round pick, a prospect, and a roster player would be sufficient in where the team wants to go in the next couple of seasons. With news of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ interest in J.T. Miller, one has to wonder if Poile gives general manager Kyle Dubas a call and dangles Forsberg in front of him. The winger would add more offense to an already well-established system, and the Maple Leafs have a few valuable pieces. The only hindrance is their lack of draft picks in 2022, with just a first, second, and seventh-round in their possession.
Whichever road that Poile and the Predators management take, the one aspect they must avoid at all cost is losing Forsberg for nothing. With the Predators still pushing for a playoff spot, the importance of Forsberg on the team is second to none. This season, with Forsberg sidelined, the Predators posted a 5-6-2 record while scoring two-or-less goals in four of them, and being shut out once. Unfortunately, the ball is in Forsberg’s hands, and the rumours circulating could dictate a difference in opinion of what he’s worth. If that’s the case, it’s time to move on and think about the future.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)