Trade deadline 2013 was a day of shock and jubilation for most Nashville Predators fans.
First and foremost, the tumultuous and medicore Scott Hannan era drew to a close. Hannan was jettisoned off to San Jose, and get this: they gave us a draft pick for him! Can you believe it?
Riding that high alone, social media seemed to be of the consensus that while seeing the Blue Jackets and Wild celebrate with their shiny new toys may have plucked the strings of envy a bit, standing mostly pat was the right move for the Predators. Going into the day, most believed that at most, there may have been a Jan Hlavac\Shane Hnidy tweak.
So when a buzz began to build in the hour after the deadline passed that the Washington Capitals were still working on completing a deal, and that it potentially involved the Predators, it was met with a healthy measure of shock. The expected “WEBER FOR OVECHKIN?!” and “KOSTITSYN FOR WARD?!” conjecture was rampant, but the actual trade was perhaps even more unexpected than that: Martin Erat and popular farmhand Mike Latta for Filip Forsberg. Browsing my timeline in the 3 PM hour should give you a pretty good measure of the stunned jubilation.
If you read my posts or tweets with any regularity, you know that I’m something of a prospect nut. With that reputation, I’ve had quite a few inquiries in the last day about the sort of player that Filip Forsberg projects to be. I will get to that, but I feel that I first need to eulogize Martin Erat, and what his departure means to the Nashville Predators.
I’ll start by making a brief statement about the dynamic of the trade itself. There’s a fair bit of Marty-bashing going on out there. Some of it reasonable, some of it not. I firmly believe that Martin Erat had a right to ask for a change of scenery. Sometimes for reasons on or off the ice, it just doesn’t “work” for a player or a team anymore. With that said, I would have liked to see a bit more decorum exercised by someone that the coaching staff has honored with an ‘A.’ I get that Erat doesn’t believe in the direction that the team is going, or doesn’t think it will happen in the remaining span of his productive years, but let’s be realistic: he’s moving from a team that’s in a 1-3 point logjam of almost-playoff teams to a team that’s in essentially the same situation. I just don’t get that aspect of his request. I would find it a lot easier to respect him if he could have toughed it out until the offseason. But in the end, it worked out pretty well for Nashville, and as they say…sometimes the end justifies the means. I get the impression that David Poile agrees, reading between the lines of his press conference. Maybe it’s best that a malcontented player makes the hastiest exit possible, anyway.
As many others have stated, there’s no doubt that Erat’s exit makes the Predators a weaker team in the immediate present. Even if you disregard his inconsistency this season, the seemingly stark regression in ability, he’s been our steadiest offensive presence in the last 5 or so seasons. The trade will make it that much more difficult to make the playoffs this season, but I’ve spoken pretty frankly over the last month: it probably wasn’t going to happen, anyway.
So throwing out this season and examining the big picture, it’s important to view trading Martin Erat as a philosophical shift. The fact that this has looked to be a “not our year” season since shortly after the puck dropped in January has never depressed me. Even the idea of finishing 10th and drafting 12th has only moderately bummed me out. In the back of my mind, the thing that troubled me the most was that axis around which the team has long been built seemed unlikely to change any time soon. I felt concerned that the core of the team, a core that has been pretty good in a pretty consistent fashion for several years –but a core that’s not getting any younger– was going to get a few more futile kicks at the can.
It’s not that Martin Erat, or even David Legwand and Mike Fisher, are bad players. I think that all three have contributed in yeoman fashion, and that the latter two will continue to do so. However, I felt that as long as those three were the centerpieces of the offense, it was never going to get over the hump. Ideally, players like these are complementary and every team needs to fill that role, Predators included. With that said, as long as all three of those players were present on the roster, it basically guaranteed that at least 50 percent of the top six was occupied. I would say that constitutes an offensive “core.”
With the trade of Erat, it signifies that there’s a paradigm shift in place, perhaps for the first time in 3 or 4 years, when the “old guard” of Dumont/Arnott/Sullivan began phasing out. To me, the Predators offense in the next 2-3 seasons becomes less about Erat, Legwand, Fisher–and more about Wilson, Bourque, Forsberg, Aberg, Watson, Beck. Poile alluded to this in his press conference to discuss the trade. The Predators can build around three key defensive pieces: Weber, Josi, Klein, as well as one of the best goaltenders in the league in Pekka Rinne. From this point, however, the offense is no longer going to be centered around an offensive core that hasn’t succeeded to this point.
To me, that’s a pretty exciting prospect.
SPEAKING OF EXCITING PROSPECTS (segue gold), Filip Forsberg…is one. In the history of the Predators franchise, this is possibly the most skilled player to hit the pipeline since prodigal Alexander Radulov. There’s a fair bit of player-assassination going on among Capitals fans today, but I think it’s more about rationalization than anything. George McPhee is most likely going to be fired if the Capitals miss the playoffs, and so he threw a hail mary, trading a legitimate blue-chip prospect for a short term boost. From his perspective, if the Capitals make the playoffs this year and next, it’s a win for them. However, that’s not to say that the long game won’t go to the Predators, as it very likely will. Besides, Lucas Bergman may be the crown jewel of the Predators’ European scouting team, finding overlooked gems like Patric Hornqvist, Anders Lindback, Mattias Ekholm, Patric Cehlin, and potentially Simon Fernholm. I tend to trust his judgment over a scouting team that drafted such pearls as Joe Finley and Sasha Pokulok. I think reports that the Capitals scouting staff/front office “soured” on Forsberg in the span of 9 months has more to do with damage control among an irate fanbase.
Filip Forsberg, had I written a draft primer last season, would likely have been my second-ranked forward, behind only first-overall-pick Nail Yakupov. Central Scouting/International Scouting Services agreed. Forsberg is strongest at center, but depending on organizational need, can also play right wing. Trotz may like to use him at center due to his physicality and defensive responsibility. Forsberg can play in all situations– power play, penalty kill, and a healthy amount of even strength minutes. He’s the sort of player that you want to have out in the last minute, whether you’re up a goal or down a goal. He’s primarily a sniper/goalscorer, but he’s got some nice passing ability as well.
As comparisons go, if Forsberg were in the upcoming draft (see my thoughts on that here), I would probably place him third on my personal Predators draft board, and fourth overall– behind Mackinnon and Drouin, ahead of Barkov and Monahan).
On a less esoteric level, I think he compares favorably to Corey Perry or Anze Kopitar. He’s not as nasty physically as Perry or as big as Kopitar, but there are a lot of stylistics resemblances.
Forsberg’s weakness is likely his footspeed. He doesn’t have a very high top gear, nor is his acceleration great–but I do believe it’s something he could improve, with work. I think that his skill and hockey IQ are more than enough to compensate.
I should caution not to put the cart ahead of the NHL impact horse, but I think that the Predators will try to get Forsberg to North America sooner rather than later, and I don’t expect much–if any–stay in Milwaukee. Filip Forsberg could be the franchise forward that has eluded the Predators and their fans since the franchise’s existence.
No pressure though, Flip.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @PredatorialJN