Who Is the Nashville Predators’ Most Valuable Player?

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So, it’s mid-August and all the hockey world is abuzz with… well not a whole lot right now. Wild speculation really is about all we have to look forward to in the dog days of summer. Today though, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Nashville Predators’ roster and determine who the MVP is. For this evaluation, we’ll explore the whole spectrum of a player’s impact on the team. His on-ice performance, leadership abilities, what he means to the franchise and fan base, and the exposure of the team from a national perspective (i.e. players who can grow the brand).

First thing’s first, let’s eliminate some players who just have no chance of being top dog. I’d say it’s fair to say that the bottom half of each general position of forwards, defensemen, and goalies. So the bottom six forwards can can go, as well as the bottom two pairs of defensemen and Carter Hutton. That leaves us with six forwards, two defensemen, and Pekka Rinne in goal.

Next, let’s just be honest with each other and admit that James Neal’s 37 points last year count him out. Also I think it’s fair to say that neither Craig Smith nor Colin Wilson are known well enough nationally to be considered here. Also, I’m excluding Mike Ribeiro for two reasons. One, he has only been with the for one season so far. Two, he’s more of a cautionary tale than a role model, and the exposure he has given the team (and NHL) this off-season was only eclipsed by the awful allegations against Patrick Kane.

That leaves use with five players: Mike Fisher, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Shea Weber, and Pekka Rinne. All five are great candidates for the MVP of the Predators, but only one can take home the hypothetical trophy I just invented for this article. So let’s dive in, shall we?

Mike Fisher

Mar 31, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher (12) celebrates after a goal during the third period against the Vancouver Canucks at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Fisher has been with the Nashville Predators since February of 2011 and has served as an alternate captain since the start of the 2011-2012 season. His leadership off the ice is without question as is his production on the ice. Since joining the Predators, Fisher has put up 172 points in 271 games. That’s a healthy 0.63 PPG average that comes to about 52 points per 82 game season. Nothing to sneeze at there, but it’s still not top line center material. Where he really makes his mark is his contribution to the community and national exposure. There’s no denying that his marriage to “someone famous” has gone a long way in drawing some people into hockey that would not normally have noticed the sport. He’s also an all around good guy. He was awarded for that good-guyness in 2012 with the NHL Player Foundation Award.

Filip Forsberg

Some may cry foul in that I disqualified Ribeiro in part because he has only been with the team for a year but kept Forsberg in contention even though he has only been a mainstay for the same amount of time. Well #PrinceFilip has more going for him, plain and simple. He’s a young, exciting player who probably still has potential that has yet to be tapped and is likely the future of the franchise. Last season he was elected to the NHL All-Star Game and was the first Predator to ever score a goal in the contest. He’s young and charming, has a great smile, bubbly demeanor, and can flat-out play. He put up 63 points last season. He also led the team in goals with 26 and was third in assists with 37; all before he could even buy a beer in the States (he just turned 21 last Thursday). His biggest asset in this is that the Predators are nowhere near the same team without him on the ice. The knock against him as the total package is his youth and lack of any kind of leadership role on the team.

Roman Josi

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Our last three finalists are all home-grown Predators drafted and developed by the organization. Josi was originally drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft and has played with the big club consistently since the 2011-2012 season. Currently occupying a top-pairing slot with Shea Weber, Josi broke out last year for 15 goals and a whopping 40 assists. That 55 point performance was just one point shy of the franchise record for a defenseman of 56. Josi has seen his role increase steadily since coming to Nashville and is starting to get some real love from the national media, which is good since Weber recently hit the big 3-0. However, his relative lack of a leadership role and that he still stands in the shadow of Weber makes him a dark horse for the MVP of the team.

Shea Weber

Remember how I said that Josi was one point shy of the points record by a defenseman? Yeah, well this is the guy who owns that record. His 23 goals during the 2013-2014 season is also a record for points by a defenseman. He also owns a mean streak that opposing players know not to mess with, except, apparently, Matt Cooke. He’s a perennial All-Star and the face of the franchise both on and off the ice. He wears that big “C” on his chest with authority. In many ways he’s a throwback to an older era: the big, burly, hard-hitting defenseman with a booming 108 MPH slapshot. Advanced stats be damned. He makes his presence on the ice known night-in and night-out. He eats up minutes in all phases of the game, including the penalty kill (unlike some other defenseman I won’t name….by the name of Erik Karlsson). Also, his absence was all too obvious during the playoff series against Chicago. When you see the difference in the Predators without Shea Weber, you realize his true value to the team.

Pekka Rinne

Mar 21, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) after a win against the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Pekka Rinne. The Finnish Force Field. The Big Pekka. Feel free to use those last two for your fantasy hockey team name. Rinne is one of the premier goaltenders in the league and a rallying point for the rest of the team. Voted to the All-Star game in 2011 and 2015 (he didn’t play this year due to injury), every season he is healthy his name will be thrown around in the Vezina-finalist discussion as well. Rinne holds club records for most…well pretty much “most anything that matters” is a pretty good way to put it. It’s pretty safe to say the Rinne is the best goaltender the Predators have ever put on the ice. His acrobatic saves often serve to fire up the rest of the team, who rally around the goaltender after he’s bailed them out a time or two. While he doesn’t serve in any official leadership capacity, there’s no doubt that his stellar play between the pipes leads the team every night he’s on the ice.

Final Verdict

This is really tough. Forsberg and Josi are probably the MVP’s of the future. Josi is still overshadowed by Weber, and Forsberg hasn’t proven he can get it done year in, year out. Fisher is a great candidate for “Most Beautiful Face on a Man”, and he has plenty of leadership credo; but he’s probably a no-go for MVP because his stats are a little shy of “elite player” status.

That leaves the two heavyweights, Weber and Rinne. One is the captain of the team and arguably THE face of the franchise. The other is the backstop and last line of defense who saves the day when all else fails, and you see his face around quite a bit as well.

When either of them is gone, the Predators just aren’t the same team. But at this very moment, I’m giving the slight edge to Pekka Rinne for one reason and one reason only: There is no back-up plan without him. If Weber goes down for any amount of time, guys like Josi, Ellis, and Jones can pick up the slack and make it work, but when Rinne goes down, the Predators simply have to change the way they play the game to compensate for the fact that they no longer have a Vezina-caliber goalie to bail them out.

So Pekka Rinne for MVP. He gives the Nashville Predators national credence, represents the team well, and he’s probably the one guy they can’t do it without. The team rises and falls on his shoulders. Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments below or on the Twitters @RobertfromTN.

Next: Cody Hodgson: Outhouse or Penthouse?