When many NHLers move into their thirties, Father Time slowly but surely starts whittling away at their game. They lose a half-step speed-wise, or the soft hands that made them stick in hockey’s best league turn hard. Eventually, the aging process beats the yearning to succeed, and the experience on how to get good things done.
But in some select cases, players become even better, at least, in their early thirties. And if you're looking for a good example, look no further than Nashville Predators star defenseman Roman Josi. As his 32nd birthday approaches, the Preds captain is having himself a career-best season in goals (18), assists (60) and points (78), and there’s still approximately one-quarter of the regular season still to play.
Josi’s performance this year is one of the main reasons Nashville is in a fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and he is the chief obstacle between Colorado Avalanche star D-man Cale Makar and the Norris Trophy as the game’s best blueliner.
It took Josi until the 2019-20 campaign to win his first Norris Trophy, but that’s not a negative comment on the early part of his career. He probably should’ve won it once or twice before then, but when you play in a league with the likes of Lightning cornerstone Victor Hedman and vintage-era Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty, it’s possible you don’t get recognized as the best of the best early on. However, the way Josi has elevated his game this year, there’s no denying him his due.
For one thing, Josi is averaging 25:14 of ice time per game – nearly two minutes more than the next-most-played Preds player – and he has 12 more points than Nashville’s next-most-offensively-productive player. He is on the ice against the opposition’s best talents, and he is thriving like never before. He also has 11 more assists and seven more points than Makar, who has the good fortune of playing on a far-more-offensively-stacked team than the Predators.
For much of his time in the NHL, Josi has played in the shadow of other stars. In the beginning, it was Shea Weber who grabbed all the headlines. Then, it was the flash and charisma of P.K. Subban that kept Josi a relatively well-kept secret. But Predators GM David Poile always ensured Josi had a place in Nashville, and it has been arguably the best decision Poile has made. Good players have come and gone for the Preds, but Josi has been the bedrock of their blueprint for success. It’s difficult to imagine Poile trading Josi for anyone.
Josi is in the second year of an eight-year, $72.4-million contract with the Predators. He is their highest-paid player, and it will stay that way, even after Poile attempts to re-sign star forward Filip Forsberg this summer. Nobody is going to top Josi’s salary, because he is their most crucial component. Even though his talents undoubtedly will dim over the remainder of his contract, Josi will continue to have great value to the organization. He goes about his business the right way. He’s got a no-maintenance ego. He’s an example for every Preds player to follow.
Ultimately, Josi would trade away every individual honor in exchange for a Stanley Cup championship. The Predators may not be a truly elite Cup frontrunner, but without him, they wouldn’t be in the mix for a playoff spot. As per CapFriendly.com, Josi takes up 11.1 percent of their salary cap, but nobody begrudges him a fraction of that amount. On the open market, he could be earning $10 or $11 million very easily.
Like many players of his stature, Josi has traded off some of his average-annual-payday value for longer contractual term, and that’s a fair bargain. There may come a day where he won’t be worth $9 million per year, but as he’s showing now, that day is a long, long time away.