Forsberg, trade deadline present Predators with tricky decisions

Forsberg, trade deadline present Predators with tricky decisions
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

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).

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For:

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

    buffalo sabres
    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

    washington capitals
    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

    pittsburgh penguins
    Jeanine Leech/Getty Images
    0 Comments

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.