If you expected the Predators to have an 80% chance to make the playoffs in early 2022, you’re probably a fan, or you work for the team.
(Frankly, plenty of Predators fans and employees are probably pretty shocked, too.)
While there are some reasons to worry about the fun running out (such as leaning so much on Juuse Saros), this team isn’t just running on pure luck. Plenty of underlying numbers* point to the Predators being a genuine playoff team, especially at even-strength.
So, now that the Predators appear better-than-expected, it makes certain questions tougher than expected. In particular, the Predators face challenging questions about Filip Forsberg, and how they should handle the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.
* – Heading into Tuesday’s game vs. the Golden Knights, the Predators ranked 11th-best in the NHL in expected goals and high-danger chance percentages, via Natural Stat Trick.
Normally, the Predators might be wise to pass on re-signing Forsberg to a new contract …
In a vacuum, I agree with Adam Vingan’s late-November take that the Predators probably shouldn’t re-sign Filip Forsberg.
To be clear, this isn’t meant as an insult to Forsberg. The wildly underrated winger’s deserved more than $6 million per year basically since the deal kicked in.
But look at the Predators’ recent history of long-term signings, particularly at forward, and realize you’ve probably seen this movie before. (And the genre of those movies is “horror.”)
Consider aging curves for all players, then tack on a troubling injury history, and a Forsberg extension screams “buyer beware” louder than vintage Jamie Lee Curtis.
By resisting a full rebuild, Predators complicate Forsberg contract question
Context turns a fairly easy call into a head-scratcher.
Take a look at the Nashville Predators’ salary structure, and you might surmise that they already made their bed. For better or worse, two key decisions shifted the Predators away from a rebuild (and maybe toward keeping Forsberg).
- Instead of replacing David Poile as eternal GM this offseason, they stuck with him.
- In turn, Poile signed Mattias Ekholm to a risky, four-year extension.
Between Ekholm (31), Roman Josi (31), Matt Duchene (30), Ryan Johansen (29), Mikael Granlund (29), and Colton Sissons (28), the Predators boast several players whose contracts extend into their thirties (or who are already there). Those four players account for almost $40M in cap space through at least 2024-25.
Long-term, that all looks pretty bad. But at least Duchene and Granlund are enjoying rebound years in the short term. Take this xGAR chart from Evolving Hockey, for instance:
A new window?
While there’s a “sunk costs” element to the Predators and their future, that above chart and their general overachievement begs a question. Maybe the Predators should just go for it for a while?
Beyond a Duchene redemption and Roman Josi remaining Norris-level, it’s Juuse Saros that inspires such a thought.
For all the mistakes/debatable choices Poile’s made lately, signing Saros to a four-year, $20 million deal in August could be enormous. Things can always change with goalies, but at 26 and with Vezina-level recent work, Saros sure looks like a steal at a $5 million cap hit. And that price is locked in through 2024-25.
Honestly, Saros deserves more hype than he receives.
Squint enough, and you can envision reasons for optimism. At least, relative to how grim things looked merely at the end of last season.
Predators at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline: a wait-and-see approach?
Ultimately, a Forsberg contract extension still seems really, really dangerous for the Predators. The red flags flag heavily enough to create a tornado warning.
But maybe the real key is to wait-and-see.
Interestingly, the Predators enjoy significant cap space for this season, and Cap Friendly estimates their cap space at about $26.5 million heading into 2022-23. Theoretically, the Predators could be trade deadline buyers instead of sellers. They might even seek more lasting improvements than typical “rentals.”
And, while you’d assume Forsberg would seek something long-term, who knows? Perhaps both sides would instead opt for more dollars but fewer years, playing into that idea of Nashville possibly having a new window for a deep playoff push.
Or … you know, the Predators could fall off badly, and melt tough questions down to easy answers.
Overall, there are worse problems to have. Just picture what most of us expected from the Predators this season.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.