This morning, in the Tennessean, Mike Fisher announced his retirement from the National Hockey League.
It’s hard to blame him, really. Fisher is 37 years old, has a two-year old and a wife who happens to be a multi-platinum recording artist. Professionally, he’s accomplished quite a bit. He played his first 10 and a half seasons with the Ottawa Senators and his last six and a half with the Nashville Predators, he got the opportunity to play a year over in Switzerland during the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 NHL season, he participated in two Stanley Cup Finals (one with each team), scored a triple-overtime winner on home ice, was a captain in the best league in the world, won two silver medals representing his native Canada at the World Championships and won the 2012 NHL Foundation Award, given annually to the player “who applies the core values of hockey — commitment, perseverance and teamwork — to enrich the lives of people in his community.”
It’s been suggested that the signing of free agent Nick Bonino has made the subtraction of Fisher a “seamless transition” as far as the lineup is concerned but what about the leadership corps? Nashville’s 2017-18 team will now be without Fisher and will be without James Neal, one of the alternate captains, who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft. That leaves just Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis wearing letters for the Preds.
So who could become the seventh captain in franchise history?
Josi has worn an “A” for Nashville since the 2015-16 season and has been an alternate captain in International competition three different times for his native Switzerland. On the ice, he’s emerged as a Norris Trophy conversation piece, he’s led all Predators defensemen in scoring each of the past three seasons — that includes two in which Shea Weber was on the squad — and only Filip Forsberg made more of an impact on the scoresheet than Josi did during last season’s run to the Cup Final. Furthermore, General Manager David Poile told The Nashville Post last year, just days before the Weber trade, he felt Josi was a “potential captain.”
Yes, he was one of Nashville’s best players during the playoffs, yes, he was officially added to the leadership corps during last season and yes, he was drafted and developed by the Predators. All of that is working in his favor. The most important thing, however? He’s been there before. He was the captain of the 2010-11 Windsor Spitfires and led them to an OHL semifinals that year. He was also the captain of Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championships, winning silver. Add that experience to the fact his heart and determination are never in doubt, he plays — nay, excels — in all situations and is a cornerstone of the defense corps and it’s easy to see why he’s a prime candidate to be Fisher’s heir apparent.
Let’s address this one since some new fans to the sport will suggest the veteran goaltender. All things being equal, Rinne would be the logical choice. He’s been in the organization since 2004, he owns every major statistical category for goaltenders in franchise history, the team has never won a playoff series without him and he’s always mentioned as being part of Nashville leadership group. The NHL has rules in place, however, to prevent goaltenders from wearing letters unfortunately. The last goalie to serve as a captain in the NHL was Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks from 2008-2010. Now, he couldn’t wear the “C” on his jersey — the Canucks named three alternates to serve the on-ice duties of a captain — but he was officially recognized by his club as the captain and, thanks to that loop hole, Rinne is included on this list of possible Fisher replacements.
Since the blockbuster trade last summer, Subban has become a vocal leader in the locker room. One could imagine that would be the case as soon as the Preds acquired him but after Showtime documented Nashville and their run to the Stanley Cup Final on All Access, one didn’t need to imagine anymore. His leadership qualities were readily apparent and available for the world to see through that mini-series. The Toronto, Ontario native is a Norris Trophy winner, wore an “A” for the Montreal Canadiens before being traded to Music City 13 months ago and was Nashville’s second leading scorer among defensemen last year despite adapting to new teammates in a new system and missing 16 games due to injury. Has he been with the team long enough to warrant the honor though?
Probably the most talented player in the Nashville organization, Forsberg is a logical option if thinking purely about statistics. He’s registered back-to-back 30-goal seasons, he can be counted on for 50-point seasons or better and has developed ridiculous chemistry with his linemates Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. In addition, he’s no stranger to wearing a letter. He captained Team Sweden in both the 2013 and 2014 World Junior Championships and captained their under-18 squad in 2012. Going from no letter to wearing the “C” is a huge leap but, considering the other candidates are all blueliners, Forsberg might just be sporting an “A” next year so the forwards can be represented.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Fuqua