The Nashville Predators players skated to center ice following their Game 4, season-ending defeat to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night, and saluted the Bridgestone Arena crowd one last time.
After saying their good-byes, the Predators headed to the dressing room one by one. But one player stayed behind a little longer, soaking in the scene and skating around with his stick raised a little longer in the air.
Was that the last time Predators fans see Filip Forsberg as one of their own? The 27-year-old could be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he will most certainly cash in somewhere after a career year that saw him score 42 goals and record 84 points in 69 games.
The Predators have some decisions to make this summer. Should David Poile remain as general manager? Is John Hynes the guy, especially now that old friend Barry Trotz is available? How would re-signing Forsberg to a long-term deal affect their salary cap picture going forward? Who are the available options should they allow Forsberg to walk?
According to Cap Friendly, the Predators will have nearly $26 million in cap space this offseason. Forsberg is the big fish among their crop of upcoming UFAs and restricted free agents this summer. Of Nashville’s top five scorers in 2021-22, he is the youngest as he’ll be turning 28 is August. He had never scored more than 33 goals or recorded more than 64 points before this season, a contract year. How much might that affect Poile’s decision to break the bank in a max-term extension?
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Forbserg has made it clear he would like to stay and Poile has consistently said he wants to re-sign the forward, but it’ll be a matter of what each side wants. Talks occurred during the regular season and now there is a deadline in two months before the 2022 NHL free agency market opens on July 13.
“I’ve said that since Day One: The goal is to come back here,” Forsberg said on Monday. “The business side is completely different than the on-ice side. [We’ll] just kind of have to wait and see and play it out.
“There’s been obviously some progression throughout the season [regarding negotiations] from where we started in September, and me and my agent and [Poile] are going to be in ongoing conversation in the process. We’ll just have to see where we end.”
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The Predators are the only organization Forsberg has really known after spending less than 10 months as a Washington Capitals prospect before being dealt for Martin Erat and Michael Latta in 2013. Forsberg made his NHL debut 11 days after the trade and eventually became a regular in the lineup two seasons later. He’s developed into a reliable scorer, having hit the 20-goal mark in his career seven times and helped the franchise reach its first Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
But most players only get one shot at a big contract during unrestricted free agency and they want to win regularly.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be on this team for a long time now, and we’ve made the playoffs [almost] every year,” Forsberg said. “But at the same time, every player plays to win the Stanley Cup. So do I. That’s my biggest goal. I do believe we have a team that can make that in the future. I think that’s the direction that a team has to be heading, and I think we are.”
Poile said last summer following the Ryan Ellis trade that the franchise is in the midst of a “competitive rebuild.” They made the playoffs this season on the backs of career years from Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Roman Josi, and breakout campaigns by Juuse Saros and rookie Tanner Jeannot.
But what happens this offseason will hinge on what comes next in the relationship between Forsberg and the Predators.
“Signing Forsberg does one thing,” Poile said during a February radio appearance. “Not signing Forsberg probably takes us in a different direction.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.