Last June, the blockbuster trade of Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens left the Predators searching for their first new captain in six seasons. But one campaign after naming Mike Fisher the sixth captain in franchise history, Nashville again finds themselves searching for someone to wear the ‘C’.
On Thursday, Fisher, 37, officially announced his retirement after 17 seasons in the NHL, and with that the Predators’ captaincy, which Fisher assumed this past September, has been vacated. A successful captaincy it was, though. While Nashville’s regular season record saw the team take a second consecutive step back and only narrowly earn a playoff berth, the post-season performance of the franchise was tremendous. The Predators went on the deepest playoff run in franchise history, winning the Western Conference championship and finishing a mere two wins from hoisting the Stanley Cup.
But all of that, and all of the promise this team had going forward, wasn’t enough to keep Fisher, a veteran of nearly 1,100 games, around. Thus, the debate begins once again regarding the Predators’ captaincy, and Nashville isn’t short on candidates.
If the Predators want to go with the young, star leader, there’s one clear-cut route to go, and that’s to hand the captaincy to Filip Forsberg. Over the past three seasons, Forsberg has become the most dynamic offensive threat in Nashville, a two-time 30-goal scorer with 90 goals over his past three campaigns. More than that, though, Forsberg has been able to flash two-way ability and prove his worth in every scenario. He’s a lead-by-example type.
And while some may scoff at handing the 22-year-old the ‘C’, consider that a few teams have swayed in the direction of young captains. Since the years when Vincent Lecavalier, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews were named captains at 21-or-under, Gabriel Landeskog and Connor McDavid have taken on the captaincies for their respective squads as 19-year-olds. By that standard, Forsberg would be a veteran.
If Nashville wants to go older, though, how about Ryan Johansen? The 25-year-old has proven his worth as the Predators’ top-line pivot, and his new eight-year, $64-million contract is proof of the stock Nashville is putting in Johansen. Until he fell injured, Johansen’s playoff performance was spectacular, as he put up three goals and 13 points in 14 games. If he continues to grow still, he could be a 70-point threat and the linchpin of the top line.
That said, if the Predators want to shift their focus away from the offense, the defense has a few candidates, as well. Some will suggest P.K. Subban, who came to Nashville in the aforementioned Weber trade, for the job, and Subban has experience as a team’s leader in one of the game’s toughest markets. In 2014-15 and 2015-16, Subban wore an ‘A’ for the Montreal Canadiens, and more than accepted the on- and off-ice responsibility. His work in the community makes him an excellent team ambassador, and his on-ice ability would make him a great choice.
A lesser-known choice, though, could be someone such as Mattias Ekholm. Maybe the most underrated member of the Predators’ D-corps, Ekholm is a defensive stalwart who takes on monster minutes. He’s not a top power play guy, but at even strength and on the penalty kill, Ekholm is the type of player any team would love to have. At the very least, it seems he’d be worthy of wearing an ‘A’ this upcoming season.
However, all of this is to skirt around the best choice for the job: Roman Josi.
For the past five seasons, Josi has been a cornerstone of the Predators’ defense, and, at around this time last year, it was argued that Josi was the right choice to take over once Weber vacated the captaincy. So now, with the ‘C’ left open once again, it only seems right that Josi will assume the Predators’ top leadership role. He’s more than ready, too.
Over the past several seasons, Josi has gone from relative unknown to one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, and this past season’s run to the Stanley Cup final was his coming out party for the entire hockey world to see. On minutes alone, Josi took over the role as the Predators’ top defenseman, and, production-wise, he was more effective than any other rearguard, repeatedly rising to the occasion. In 22 games, he managed six goals and 14 points, both the second-highest marks among all Predators in the post-season.
That kind of contribution from Josi was shocking to some, but incredibly familiar to anyone who has followed the rearguard’s career over the past several campaigns. During Weber’s tenure, Josi was often overshadowed by his hard-hitting, big-shooting defensive partner, but the Swiss defender began to shine during the 2014-15 campaign. Josi scored 15 goals and 55 points, both career-best marks, while averaging nearly 26:30 per game for the Predators. By the time the campaign closed, Josi found himself in Norris Trophy contention, and he finished fifth in voting, one spot behind Weber. The very next year, Josi had a better-than-repeat performance, posting 14 goals and 61 points en route to another fifth-place Norris finish.
More than statistically, though, Josi has grown along with these Predators. He rose through Nashville’s minor league system, broke into the roster as a 21-year-old and battled for his spot. He has felt the sting of consecutive years outside the post-season in 2012-13 and 2013-14, and has also watched as Nashville progressed from a first-round defeat to second-round defeat and then a trip to the Stanley Cup final. He’s represented the team on the all-star stage and, for the past two seasons, has had an alternate captaincy. But now is the time for the real thing.
So, while the Predators will have more than a few options for their next captain, the best choice, far and away, would be to hand the ‘C’ to Josi.
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