Mike Fisher slowly recovering from offseason surgery, could be in doubt for season opener

It’s an exciting season in the Hockey Tonk this year as the Predators look to build on their best postseason in franchise history. The organization had noticeable momentum last season—on the ice, in the stands, and around town. The big question now: what will the Predators do for an encore?

The big story of the offseason was undoubtedly Shea Weber and his contract negotiations. But another story that flew under the radar hasn’t worked out quite as well: Mike Fisher’s shoulder. The mid-season acquisition underwent offseason shoulder surgery in May and was supposed to be ready for training camp. Well, he was at training camp—just not participating in anything too intensive.

Josh Cooper from The Tennessean caught up with Fisher to shed a little light on the recovery process:

“Still not ready for contact or anything. But I am skating and starting to shoot a bit, and it’s coming. I’m just really not sure as far as timetable. I just have to be patient.”

Asked if there is any fear that he won’t be ready for the start of the season, Fisher displayed some uncertainty.

“Not sure to be honest,” he said. “We’ll see if I can slip into training camp, get strong and feel good. But it’s coming up quick. It has been a long haul so far, so we’ll see.”

The last part of Fisher’s comments doesn’t sound very encouraging. The problem with Fisher missing any regular season games is two-fold. First and foremost, nobody in the Western Conference is in the position to waste away points in the beginning of the season. Each team will be competing to get off to a good start and create a little room between themselves and the 9th seed. Like everyone else, the Preds would like to stockpile as many wins in October in case they run into problems later in the season.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt attendance in football country if the Predators capitalized on the momentum they created last postseason.

Secondly, Fisher proved to be an important player for Nashville in his 27 games with the organization. He may have only scored 5 goals and 12 points in his short stint with the Preds, but it was his importance to the rest of the team that made him so valuable. Guys like David Legwand were put into positions to succeed while Fisher and his linemates faced the opponents’ top defensive pairings. In turn, Legwand was freed up to play a more offensive role. He may not be a #1 center option, but he proved at the end of the season that he’s a pretty good alternative on the second line.

Those are the things won’t show up on Fisher’s stat sheet.

The next step is watching how Fisher recovers throughout training camp and the preseason. As he alluded to in his comments, once he recovers and is cleared for contact, he’ll still have to work himself into game shape. Sadly, those are the things that players usually do during the preseason. Veteran players like Fisher are certainly capable of missing a few weeks before the season starts—but everyone involved would like him to get a little contact in before the games start to count.

Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

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The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

“There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes

Preds expect answer from Fisher next week

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We should find out next week if Mike Fisher is going to retire or keep playing for the Predators.

Fisher, Nashville’s 37-year-old captain, is an unrestricted free agent. He confirmed last month that he was considering retirement. But first, he needed some time to think.

Yesterday, Preds GM David Poile said he expected an answer soon.

“I’m hoping to talk to him later this week to see where he’s at,” Poile said, per The Tennessean. “I’d say by next week, we should have an update.”

Fisher had 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games last season, but then had just four assists in 20 playoff games as the Preds reached their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

If Fisher re-signs, he’ll likely be in the bottom six next season, with Ryan Johansen and newly signed Nick Bonino expected to center the top two lines. Fisher could even be the fourth-line center or a winger, allowing the likes of Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, and Frederick Gaudreau to take on bigger roles.

But for Fisher, hockey isn’t everything, and after more than 1,000 games in the NHL, he may simply opt to hang up the skates.

“Everyone wants to win in this game, no one probably more than me,” Fisher said. “But there’s other things. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s an important part of my life, but it’s not everything.”

Related: Predators take Stanley Cup loss with grace and optimism

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.