The NHL is a great league with incredible media coverage. But sometimes, you come across things that can’t be explained with logic. In full view of everyone, the defenceman of the Nashville Predators, Roman Josi, has shown an outstanding performance in the regular season. He has already beaten his personal records in goals, assists and points and set a new club record for scoring in one regular season, outperforming Canadian forward Paul Kariya (85 points).
The Swiss player is already considered a superstar. He met the strict criteria to be recognised as one of the three most valuable defenders in the world and won the first Norris Trophy in his career two years ago. It seems like Josi should be under the spotlight of the progressive hockey community every morning. But the captain of Nashville did not receive his well-deserved recognition until almost the end of March.
The player was recognised as the first star of the month after scoring points in a series of 13 matches (28 in total). This is an incredible result! Only two defencemen had a better result in one month – Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey scored 31 points in March 1971 and 29 in December 1985, respectively.
The rise of Nashville
Nashville does not spark the spectator’s interest. In terms of media coverage, Josi is very far behind Alexander Ovechkin or Auston Matthews – the Predators have more of a chance of winning the Stanley Cup than Josi has a chance to be as popular in the media as they are. Tennessee, where the team is based, is a remote province by the NHL standards. The defenceman is an example of a good guy both on and off the ice: he does charity work, is happily married to a stunning American model, and has never been seen in a situation that is even remotely scandalous. His genteel image is exactly the same as what he shows during the hockey games, where he succeeds without using physical force.
Josi became widely spoken about after getting close to an incredible figure of 100 points in one season. He now has 87 (19 +68) points – four more than Alexander Ovechkin and only one point away from Artemi Panarin.
The last time hockey fans saw such a performance was 30 years ago. Rangers legend Brian scored 102 points in the 1991/92 season. Then the New Yorkers became the best in the regular season, scoring an average of 4.01 goals per game (third highest in the league). The great Mark Messier (107 points) played along with Leetch and several high-class athletes – two years later, the team won the Stanley Cup. In those days, hockey was more fun in terms of performance, and tough defensive systems had not yet become as commonplace.
Nashville is more interesting this season than ever before but is still struggling to get into the top 10 scoring teams (averaging 3.3 goals per game). Forwards Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen are playing like never before. They all head towards a record for points scored in one season. The players are very talented. Forsberg once made it to the NHL All-Star Game, and at the 2018 World Cup, he became the scorer of the game-changing goal of the Swedish national team. Duchene is a Canadian who had a hand in his team’s victories at the Olympics and the World Cups. His previous best record was 70 points in the 2013/14 and 2018/19 seasons. Generally, Duchenne caused disappointment with his game because he could not make good use of the opportunities available to him. There is nothing to say about Johansen – the last time he was considered a centre forward with a bright future was ten years ago.
The head coach John Hynes left an ambiguous impression of his work in New Jersey, but his merit in the development of the Nashville club is obvious. The club has relied on defence for most of its existence in the NHL. Just recall Barry Trotz, who coached the team for a very long time. It is no coincidence that the athletes whose talent was drawn out in the club are goalkeepers (Vokoun, Rinne, Saros) and defencemen (Weber, Josi, Suter, Timonen, Hamhuis, Židlický, Jones, Ellis).
The beginning of the attack, leaving his zone and getting the puck into the opponent’s goal all fall onto Josi’s shoulders – without him, there would be no current glorious achievements. The significance of the Swiss player, who, due to his skating skills, understanding of the game and excellent work with the stick, is also good at performing his actual duties, is proven by the fact that he is about to become the top scorer of his team for the third season running. Josi is the single force pulling Nashville into the playoffs, no offence to Juuse Saros, who has become a league star. If you are going to place bets on hockey – bear this in mind and always check if he is playing.
Cooler than Makar and Hedman
Until recently, the Swiss athlete was in the shadow of Colorado defenceman Cale Makar. A young Canadian has been praised by literally everyone for more than a year. In many ways, for a reason. In terms of spectacularity, he looks preferable because of his perfect skating and dizzying forward movements. But the saying one man’s peach is another man’s poison would be appropriate here – everyone’s tastes differ.
Some try to explain the choice of those who prefer Makar better with statistics. The Canadian defenseman often plays shorthanded more, is sent off less, and has a better Corsi. But in this case, the statistics should not become the most important factor, especially considering that none of the defensive players in the league can compare with the Swiss in the number of controlled zone exits and crosses over the blue line. Simply put, the entire attacking potential of Nashville depends on him.
A recent anonymous opinion poll on who’s the NHL’s best defenceman of the season by The Athletic’s lead journalist Pierre Lebrun turned out quite interesting. They had to name the top three. Most people said Josi, Makar and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay). Neither one of them is the definite leader, although the Swiss (71 points) slightly outperformed the Canadian (67) and the Swede (44). I liked one opinion with which I fully agree: without the Canadian and the Swede, their clubs would have easily made it into the playoffs, but Nashville, without Josi, would have had a minimal chance in the Western Conference. If the Swiss had been in Colorado or Tampa, he would hardly have been less impactful than his competitors.
I remember a situation at the Vancouver Olympics 12 years ago very well. Josi, who then played in his home country for Bern, did not qualify for the tournament because of a broken finger. His head coach Ralph Krueger was passionately saying what a wonderful defender was growing up and how the team would miss him. Josi’s progress has exceeded the wildest expectations.
The agile, manoeuvrable and fast defenceman has good stamina, therefore, he can spend 25-26 minutes per game without getting too tired. It looks like genetics does matter: his mother was a member of the Swiss swimming team, and his father was a good professional football player. The son could have followed in his father’s footsteps but chose hockey and can already be considered the most outstanding Swiss player in history: he has won two silver medals at the world championships (2013 and 2018), the most valuable player of the tournament award (2013), is a finalist of the Stanley Cup 2017 and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, four-time NHL All-Star and a Swiss champion.
He did not become a prominent figure in Nashville straight away. He had to start in the AHL. The player himself recollects that he learned a lot from playing with Shea Weber. The powerful Canadian was one of the best in his position for 15 years, and it is only by a terribly unfair coincidence that he did not win a single Norris Trophy. And now, if the trophy, the winner of which is determined by a vote of professional journalists writing about hockey, does not go to Josi, this will be the main disappointment of the year. Hopefully, you found this article useful. If you enjoy sports betting, have a look at the sportsbook on our website.