Nashville Predators Outlook: Life After Mike Fisher

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Nashville Predators outlook
NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 11: Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in Game Six of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Bridgestone Arena on June 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators announced his retirement from the NHL. Fisher spent 17 seasons in the league, playing 10.5 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, before being traded to Nashville in 2011. In his 413 games with the Predators, Fisher became a fan favorite. While with Nashville, he scored 109 goals and 128 assists. He served as team captain this past season after Shea Weber was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. With Fisher’s departure, the Predators lose a piece of their identity and an important player on and off the ice. Even so, the Predators are in a position to thrive in their life after Fisher.

Nashville Predators Outlook: Life After Mike Fisher

Changing of the Guard

Fisher’s departure is the latest in the team’s transition from a previous generation to a new guard. The team surely would have embraced Fisher’s return for another season, but they have prepared for his departure. The Predators have continuously retooled their roster as their players have aged. In the 2012-13 season, the Predators traded Martin Erat to the Washington Capitals for Filip Forsberg. Then, in 2013-14, they traded their first ever draft pick David Legwand to the Detroit Red Wings for Calle Jarnkrok and other pieces. With an abundance of capable defensemen, they flipped Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen. Then, they moved Shea Weber last summer for P.K. Subban in the biggest deal in team history. In expansion this summer, they lost James Neal while protecting Jarnkrok.

Those acquired players compliment their drafted and developed players the likes of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson. Through free agency this off-season, the Predators acquired Fisher’s likely replacement Nick Bonino. The team is now young, skilled and more balanced than it has ever been. David Poile has patiently and meticulously built a team that can compete for a Cup and fit under the cap.

Locking in the Core

After replacing lost players and acquiring new talent, it is up to a general manager to secure those pieces. In the recent past and this summer, Poile spent considerable money to ensure that this squad he developed will be around for years to come. The team’s offensive core of Forsberg, Johansen, Arvidsson, Jarnkrok and Bonino are signed through 2020-21, when Bonino’s contract will expire. Of their defensive top-four, Ellis will need a contract first after the 2018-19 season. The contracts are also staggered in a way that the team will not need to extend more than one or two players in a given summer. In this way, Poile avoids a situation like the Tampa Bay Lightning have found themselves in recently.

All this means that the Predators team as it stands remains intact for at least two more seasons. If they can replicate their success of last season, it conceivably gives the Predators two more immediate shots at the Cup. The staggered expiration dates give them flexibility with the cap to move and re-sign players as their contracts expire. It also means there should never be a mass exodus of talent from the team.

Currently, the Predators have no free-agents left to sign. They also find themselves with $5.4 million in cap space to spend now, or hold onto to sign future players acquired through trade or free agency. In the past, the Predators have never spent to the cap, but success generates revenue. Given the size of recent contracts, it surely seems as if Poile has the green light to spend. Should the team succeed as is, they also have the option to hold the available cap space until players like Ellis, Kevin FialaColton Sissons, and Pontus Aberg are due raises.

Center Position

With the departure of Fisher, the Predators depth chart at center stands as follows: Johansen as top-line center, Jarnkrok or Bonino on the second and third lines, and Sissons or Frederick Gaudreau as the fourth-line center. The more reliable bet on the fourth line seems like Sissons, as he has more NHL experience than Gaudreau and showed the ability to play against tougher lines in the Final, where he was often matched against Sidney Crosby. Gaudreau is less of a proven commodity. His recent three-year contract appears more of a reward for a big playoff performance and less of a guarantee of a roster spot.

This gives the Predators reliable depth, and some reserve in case of injury. Given the timing of Fisher’s announcement, just days after Johansen was extended, it would appear Fisher waited to make a decision until his team was assured it would be strong down the middle.

The Next Captain?

With the roster shored up, the Predators are prepared for the departure of Mike Fisher. The captain would have been a valuable piece of the on-ice product, but his absence will likely be felt most in his role as a leader. The team has yet to name their next captain, but it seems most likely that either Roman Josi or Ryan Ellis will assume the role.

Both players have been with the team for extended time, and both are consistent, vital components. Josi seems the most likely option given his contract length and his popularity with the fan base.

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