Mike Fisher has a decision to make about his future, and there are two options that the 37-year-old veteran center is set to choose between.
One would see Fisher, who has suited up in more than 1,000 NHL games, walk away from the game after 17 seasons, hanging up his skates for a final time. The other would see Fisher, who captained the Predators to the Stanley Cup final this past season, ink another deal in Nashville and come back for what would almost assuredly be one last attempt at a title.
And, while Fisher said it’s not the Stanley Cup that he’d be coming back for, it sure would make sense if he were to announce that he’s set to return to the Predators for one final season, giving himself one more shot at the ever-elusive championship. And, make no mistake, the Predators are in position to be a true contender.
This past season, Nashville came two wins shy of hoisting the Stanley Cup in what was the deepest post-season run in franchise history, and it also marked the closest Fisher has come to being able to lift the sport’s greatest prize. And looking at the Predators’ roster on paper, it’s hard to see any area where the team has failed to improve.
Defensively, there’s absolutely no reason to question the Predators’ stability. The top four of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm will remain intact this coming season, and the reality is the foursome could be even better than they were this past campaign. At the start of the 2016-17 season, questions arose about the effectiveness of the core as they faltered at times, but as the year wore on, the Predators D-corps continually improved to the point they were near perfect come the post-season. That’s exactly how they should be able to perform as soon as the puck drops on 2017-18, too.
But GM David Poile didn’t rest this summer when it came to the Predators’ defense. Instead, he added where he felt necessary, bringing aboard Alexei Emelin. The physical rearguard, a former teammate of Subban’s with the Montreal Canadiens, brings an extra body to the third pairing and, along with Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin, gives Nashville a trio of fifth, sixth and seventh defenders that is likely unrivalled in the league. And with that blueline insulating goaltender Pekka Rinne, the veteran netminder should be in perfect position to turn in another stellar campaign. His playoff performance, which saw him post a .930 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average, was evidence he still has what it takes to be a top netminder.
Really, the only major loss the Predators suffered this summer has been that of James Neal, who was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. However, Poile went out this summer and brought aboard center Nick Bonino and winger Scott Hartnell to help bulk up the offense, and the combined ability of the two forwards should be able to replace the production that was lost with Neal’s departure. Not only that, Poile has managed to retain the services of all of his key forwards and has done so on team-friendly deals. That means Nashville could be in line to see an encore to the breakout season from Viktor Arvidsson, an uptick in production from Calle Jarnkrok and potential career years out of playoff performers such as Austin Watson, Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala, who had impressed before suffering a playoff-ending injury.
The only contract yet to be ironed out — though sure to be completed before the season begins — is one for first-line center Ryan Johansen. The 24-year-old had an impressive 14-goal, 61-point season between Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, and when he’s back, the Predators’ depth down the middle is going to be excellent. And that’s especially true if Fisher were to come back to add a bit more punch, offensively and defensively, to Nashville center group.
This past season, Fisher proved he can still be a contributing member of the roster and, as far as end-of-season point total, he actually managed his most productive campaign in the past three years. Playing in the middle of the lineup, taking on shorthanded minutes and trotting out on the power play, Fisher managed 18 goals, 42 points and 16:37 in ice time per game. His effort was enough to put him among the five highest-scoring Predators.
It’s true that Fisher slowed in the playoffs, managing only four points, all assists, in 20 post-season outings, but even when it was the most crucial time of the year, Fisher was logging 17-plus minutes on a regular basis and taking on tough competition. The points didn’t come, but his usefulness was still evident. And even if he were to come back in a bottom-six role, Fisher’s presence on the ice and in the dressing room only stands to make Nashville’s roster all the more capable of challenging for the Stanley Cup.
So, while it may not be all about the Stanley Cup for Fisher, there’s plenty of reason for him to come back and give it one more shot in Nashville. He’s been close twice — three wins away as an Ottawa Senator in 2006-07 and two wins shy a decade later — but Fisher and the Predators have a real, honest shot at going all the way this coming campaign, and there would be no better way for Fisher to go out than riding off into the sunset with the Stanley Cup in tow.
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