Perhaps he was not exclusively covered or a main highlight of the season, but Filip Forsberg’s presence was most assuredly missed last season. He quietly collected 50 points, and frankly, it almost went unnoticed. When Viktor Arvidsson slapped the “score goals or bust” bumper sticker on his season, Forsberg’s individual efforts and struggles felt invisible. A memorable goal here and there, but something was off this year. Granted, Nashville had a new storyline every week last season, but the question remains: why did it feel like Forsberg was not the superstar Nashville was accustomed to?
Playing in only 64 games, Forsberg took 28 goals and 22 assists to the bank. Ryan Johansen and the four defensemen played a crucial role in that, as they all, in total, assisted Forsberg 28 times (Johansen alone assisted him 14 times). Forsberg himself assisted no other player more than Viktor Arvidsson, as he helped him find the back of the net 11 times. The JOFA line was outstanding all around, no question about it. Surprisingly, it was Arvidsson who stole the show this past year as he nailed 34 regular season goals and a new Nashville record to the Predators’ wall.
Many overlook the 28 goals from Forsberg, yet it does not seem surprising. In the early parts of 2019, he wasn’t near the elite status at all, netting only 7 goals in the months of January and February. March felt uncharacteristic as well- yet 7 goals in 15 games was a nice turnaround in comparison to what he experienced earlier in the latter half of the season. It wasn’t for a lack of effort- there were only two games where he did not record one shot on goal, the October 11th game against Winnipeg and the February 21st game against Los Angeles (both in which he recorded an assist). He took six or more shots on eight different occasions, and netted at least one goal in six of those games.
In terms of month to month production, here’s how he fared to Arvidsson.
October: Arvidsson- 8 goals // Forsberg- 10 goals
November: Arvidsson- 0 goals (1 game played) // Forsberg- 4 goals
December: Arvidsson- 1 goal // Forsberg- DNP
January: Arvidsson- 10 goals // Forsberg- 4 goals
February: Arvidsson- 7 goals // Forsberg- 3 goals
March: Arvidsson- 7 goals // Forsberg- 6 goals
April: Arvidsson- 1 goal // Forsberg- 1 goal
On a month to month basis, Arvidsson was the better goal scorer, and frankly, Forsberg did not exactly rack up the assists the way he probably should have. The only true separation Forsberg was able to maintain was the power play- Forsberg was the best power play contributor on the team across the board.
That being said, Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen were better with Forsberg. In terms of total shot attempts and Corsi For percentages, both Johansen and Arvidsson were below 49% without Forsberg and were above 60% with Forsberg. He was a shooting machine- he outshot all the forwards, even volume shooter Craig Smith (see last article here). He was also 6th on the team in shooting percentage with a solid 12.9%, a stat that is both sustainable and repeatable.
Forsberg complimented Arvidsson and Johansen extremely well (thank you, Captain Obvious), considering Johansen could dish the puck to either player with a level of certainty and confidence. Arvidsson and Forsberg were worse off without Johansen, but Johansen was worse off without his two Swedish wingers. As a trio, their high danger chance for percentages in all situations leveled out to 59.8%. When they were not together, those numbers drop to 46.15%, and Forsberg’s individual percentage was an appalling 44.45%.
Numbers aside, an elite player can take control of the game whether or not the team needs it or not. I can point to four examples of when Forsberg took control of the game- the hat trick against Edmonton, the two consecutive power play goals against Anaheim, the incredible goal against St. Louis at home in February, and the assist on Johansen’s goal against Vancouver at the very end of the year. Other than that, it felt like Forsberg was missing. And fortunately for Forsberg and the Predators, MIA still has 28 goals attached.
The best comparison I can make is Filip Forsberg is like pizza. Even when he’s “bad,” he’s still pretty good.
So What Happened?
I have three theories. And two of them are not too off base.
Considering he was hurt, (a mysterious upper body injury), it’s very possible Forsberg suffered the same effects that Ryan Ellis did- playing through an undisclosed injury that diminishes game to game play. Forsberg is not necessarily prone to injury, but he did suffer a similar injury the year prior- and missed the same amount of time, and he faced the same patterns after injury the year before as well, as he netted only 11 goals in 4 months. He regained some ground in the two rounds of the playoffs, but his production in the latter half of the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons rivaled that of the production of a third line forward like Nick Bonino.
The Predators would have disclosed the area of injury were it not too serious. Considering Kyle Turris had a “lower body injury” and P.K. Subban had an “upper body injury” and Arvidsson’s broken thumb was stated plain as day, it’s no secret the team was trying to protect him. That being said, expediting his recovery did nothing but halter the team’s rise back to the top of the division. Perhaps a better and longer recovery might have benefitted Forsberg and the team’s best interests.
The unbelievable performance of Arvidsson is another reason. Perhaps Forsberg’s contributions were masked by the sheer numbers Arvidsson put up, especially considering the goal production Arvidsson put up. His goal scoring tear felt like a redemption tale (see my Arvidsson story here), and who couldn’t be in more shock and awe than his own teammates? Besides, Forsberg finished with more points than Arvidsson, but nobody will remember that. All they’ll remember is Arvidsson’s jump celebration after scoring that 34th goal.
Before I reveal my third theory, here’s what I’ll say: Forsberg has the ability to be the elite player he can be this year. It seems every year, there has always been a prohibiting factor that limits Forsberg’s stardom, but this year could be the best one yet. Someone has to break the new 34 goal record.
My Prevailing Third Theory
As I depart for college, I wanted to share my favorite story from this year (and yes, it involves Filip Forsberg). Penalty Box Radio and Justin Bradford provided me almost too many opportunities last year, and helped me establish solid credibility (enough credibility that I have a radio show DURING THE DAY my freshman year of college). When I was starting out, I would tag everyone I could with my articles- my motto was “if no one reads it, then write until someone does.” And to my surprise, someone did. I never imagined these articles would take me inside the Predators’ locker room merely a month into the gig (and of course, I just asked for the opportunity and someone was kind enough to oblige me).
On November 29th, I was a mere high school senior with little idea of what I wanted to do with this whole shindig. I left second period around 9:00 to shadow Robby Stanley, an NHL.com correspondent for the Predators, at Bridgestone Arena for a morning skate. I had my corduroy button down, cowboy boots, and black suede hat, and I was ready to rock and roll. Arriving at an empty Bridgestone with nothing but the Predators’ media crew was more than inspiring, especially since the big writers like Adam Vingan, Jeremy Gover, and Brooks Bratten were there. Being amongst the likes of Chris Mason, Willy Daunic, Kara Hammer, and Lyndsay Rowley placed me in a state of disbelief- the job I wanted occupied by these underrated idols, right in front of me (also for some reason, World Series MVP Mookie Betts was there). I had almost forgotten Robby Stanley, my mentor for the day, was showing me around.
Mr. Stanley ran me through the ranks of his typical day, collecting information from the skate and projecting a lineup. Then- as if he knew what I was anticipating for all morning- he guided me down to the lower levels where the locker room was. There we waited to enter the Predators locker room. Business as usual for them, a near uncontrollable wave of anxiety for me. First person I saw was Roman Josi, who bumped into Mr. Stanley, and slapped his shoulder on his way to the showers. First player I met was Colton Sissons, whom I had written about prior to meeting him (see article here). I sat and talked to Zac Rinaldo, who complimented my watch. It was absolutely incredible, but I could not let my excitement peep through. I took a few laps around the locker room, standing next to THE shirtless Craig Smith, all business Miikka Salomaki, the surprisingly beefed up Ryan Hartman, the surprisingly skinny Austin Watson, and the ever expressive Ryan Johansen.
Then he entered. Prince Filip himself.
By my recollection, Filip Forsberg stood 10 feet tall in skates, and his shoulders were wider than mine doubled. Mr. Stanley walked me over where he was, and he said, “Hey Fil, I wanted you to meet my friend who’s shadowing me today.” Fil, without hesitation, leaned towards me (almost chest to chest, to the point that I could smell sweat and power play work on his sweater), grabbed my hand efficiently yet gently and says, “Hey I’m Fil.” And me, attempting to be professional, gripped his hand harder than he gripped mine and replied, “Yes you are, hello, I’m Jack.” (My yearbook quote is “Filip Forsberg told me to call him ‘Fil’.”)
Two other points I wanted to highlight before I continue- Kyle Turris was present wearing a beanie, skinny jeans, and a Dwight Schrute sweater, which, of course; hockey players are hipsters at heart. I also met Oliver Ekman Larsson, who played in his 600th game that night. Not quite as exciting as “Hey, I’m Fil” but still fairly riveting.
So, you may be wondering why I decided to tell you all this.
Later that night, Filip Forsberg did not return to the ice midway through the third period after sustaining an injury on his right hand (otherwise known as the hand I shook that morning). I singlehandedly either broke his hand or gave his hand bad luck and nonetheless cost the team a month and a half of Filip Forsberg.
In conclusion, my bad, guys.