Rewind to a few seasons ago, or even just last season, and talks of the Nashville Predators trading Filip Forsberg would have been met with puzzled looks and comments such as, “that’s crazy” and those of a similar nature. However, this season has gone downhill fast and the Predators are barely recognizable anymore. It has been reported that Forsberg isn’t exactly untouchable, like only less than a handful of his teammates are. But even though this shortened 2020-21 campaign has gone about as badly as it possibly could have, trading Forsberg should still be met with the same bewilderment.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Predators are open to moving any player, except Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne. The two defensemen are the staples of the team. It would make absolutely zero sense to trade your captain, reigning Norris Trophy winner, and at times, leading point scorer away because the season has been a total disappointment.
Ellis is in a similar category. He may be slightly overshadowed playing on the top pairing with Josi, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a reliable and sound defenseman, who arguably could be in the “most underrated” conversation.
Rinne is still producing at a respectable level and reasonably several teams could use and want his services down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Predators’ long-time goaltender could go to another suitor, but that wouldn’t sit right with anyone. Yes, this “untouchable” designation is more sentimental than from a competitive standpoint. It would be like seeing Michael Jordan wearing a Washington Wizards uniform, it just looks and feels weird to everyone.
The Rebuild Keepers
The Predators are in a stage now where the rebuild path is becoming the only way to go. It may seem strange that a bad half to an irregular season has led to this solution being batted around. But the truth is, the team has been treading water for too many seasons. They were built and tweaked to win a championship by now, but they’re still searching to break through. This disastrous season just shone a light on the cracks, exposing the deficiencies that have most likely always been there.
So, with a rebuild you need something to build around, a stable foundation, if you will. Josi is certainly an excellent candidate when starting anew. But in reality, building from the back end solely may be the only route the Predators have ever been down. Think about it, they’ve never had a scorer that one could point to and say, “he’ll be in the MVP race” or “this guy’s a guaranteed 40-goal scorer.” There has never been a player score 40 goals in a Predators’ uniform, and maybe that’s because the team doesn’t value them as much as they should.
Credit where credit is due — the scouts, coaches, and player development team have done a phenomenal job with defensemen. This is not to say they have done poorly with the forwards, but the results speak for themselves. However, in fairness, the forwards the Predators draft and acquire are rarely players considered as can’t-miss talent, or natural producers to the point that they’re a headline-making threat every time they step on the ice.
All this is to say, wouldn’t it be best to have two solid pillars to start the rebuild, one on either end of the ice? There is no handbook or set of rules a team has to follow when hitting the reset button. You don’t have to choose just one player or one position to keep when starting fresh. If the reports are correct from Friedman, then general manager David Poile should throw Forsberg’s name on to the list of untouchables.
Let’s get this out of the way first, Forsberg is not a league-wide elite talent just yet. He is one of the better forwards in the NHL, but he can not be included in the group of the truly elites. However, as mentioned, he is one of the better forwards in the league, and maybe more importantly, he is the best the Predators have.
Like Rick Pitino once said on March 1, 2000, of a then struggling Boston Celtics team, “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old.”
Well, Paul Kariya is not walking through that door. Jason Arnott is not walking through that door, and… ah, you get it.
But don’t be confused, holding on to Forsberg isn’t settling. Currently he is the team’s leading point scorer, by a lot. For a majority of the season, he was operating at, or close to a point-per-game pace. He is slightly below that now, as he is arguably experiencing his customary dry spell. He is pointless in his last five games and goalless in his last eight.
However, despite the slump, Forsberg is still inside the top 35 in scoring league-wide. It doesn’t sound overly impressive, no, but when considering where this team is, in terms of overall goal production, it’s a wonder that he is situated as high as he currently is. There’s not a whole lot of support from his teammates — nobody else is really scoring. Bear in mind, opponents are aware of the Predators’ troubles when it comes to scoring. They know that Forsberg is the main, and really only, serious threat. There’s never an easy shift for the Predators’ forward; he gets the opposition’s best, night after night and shift after shift.
Forsberg: The Franchise’s Best Forward?
Admittedly, he has a problem with consistency. A Forsberg hiatus is almost guaranteed every year at some point in the season. But, consider this, those pauses in action never take away from a strong overall performance. He’s scored at least 25 goals every season except one since his first full NHL campaign in 2014-15. Oh, and that one season he failed to record 25 goals was during the abruptly shortened campaign last year, in which he scored 21. Could he have scored four more goals, in the Predators’ 13 remaining games? Absolutely, he could have.
Forsberg owns the franchise’s fourth-best points-per-game average among players who have suited up in 82 or more games for the team. So, while he may have stretches where he fails to produce to the level he is capable of, remember his overall reliability. The Predators do not have a Nathan Mackinnon, Auston Matthews, or Connor McDavid — they never have. Therefore, you have to take the good with the bad, and if we’re honest, the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to Forsberg.
With that said, there is one factor that should be taken into consideration. Something only Forsberg himself can answer: does he want to be part of a rebuild and should it happen?
Forsberg is in his prime and possesses skills that every team in the league could use. Rebuilds usually don’t happen overnight — they take time. Who knows when the Predators will be back to being a legitimate contender? By the time they are in position to make a run at a championship, who knows where Forsberg will be in his career? Can he accept that? More importantly, is he willing to take on that risk?
He has one more year remaining on his contract after this season. Forsberg could decide to walk after 2021-22. It is imperative that the Predators have the conversation with Forsberg soon rather than later to gauge his feelings about the possible upcoming process.
If Forsberg is committed to the team, it would be a colossal mistake for the front office to deal Forsberg based on a season that has been derailed. It would be the very definition of acting in haste only to repent at leisure.
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. Follow on Twitter: @A_Grant27