Mike Fisher on Predators return: ‘This could be our year’

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Why is Mike Fisher (eventually) coming back to the Nashville Predators and the NHL? Well, for a lot of the reasons you’d probably expect.

Fisher, Predators GM David Poile, and head coach Peter Laviolette addressed the media about Fisher’s surprise return from retirement on Wednesday, giving some big-picture answers to some of the questions surrounding his comeback.

Why?

Poile joked that he saw photos of Fisher hunting, so he thought Fisher was “relatively happy” in retirement.

Fisher certainly didn’t paint a sad picture of retirement, noting that it was “weird” to watch Predators games as a fan. Still, around Christmas time, the absence really started to sting. He’d been having discussions with Laviolette, current Preds captain Roman Josi, and others here and there about a comeback.

“It always kind of bugged me when guys came back from retirement,” Fisher said.

” … I’m all in, I’m excited. I know it’s going to be a special year.”

Fisher explained that, even without winning the Stanley Cup during last year’s exciting run, that it was the best time of his 17-year NHL career, and he believes “this could be our year.”

(He’s already aligning with the Predators from a pronoun standpoint. That’s a good sign.)

Fisher has the support of his wife Carrie Underwood, if not the three-year-old he’s been chasing around the house in retirement, and it’s clear that the Predators wanted him back. So what’s next?

How might Fisher figure in, change Predators’ plans?

When asked about the trade deadline – which serves as something of a soft deadline for actually signing Fisher – Predators GM David Poile said that he likes where his team is, but “never say never.”

You wonder if Fisher’s return might open the door for the Predators to involve another player in a bolder move?

As it stands, Nashville already had plenty of options down the middle; from top guys Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, to supporting centers like Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons, with even players like Calle Jarnkrok having some experience at center.

Last season, Fisher seemingly ended his career on a high note, almost doubling his 2015-16 points total (42 to 23, with 18 of those 42 points being goals). It’s not really the points that the Predators are after, and all the leadership/character/intangibles talk isn’t the full story, either.

Fisher’s versatility could be useful, assuming he can return to game form.

In 2016-17, he won 54.9 percent of his faceoffs, and he’s won at least 52 percent of his draws since 2013-14. As you can see from Hockey Reference’s metrics, Fisher saw an increasing defensive role during his latter days with the Preds, starting just 39.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone last season.

Fisher stated that he’s eager to complement this team in whatever way works, and his recent play argues that point.

It will be interesting to see where he’d figure in, most likely in the bottom two lines. According to Left Wing Lock, this is what the Predators’ bottom six looks like right now:

Kevin Fiala — Bonino — Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki — Sissons – Austin Watson

With Filip Forsberg out, Pontus Aberg is currently occupying his spot on the top line, so Aberg would serve as another useful option. If everyone’s healthy, it could make for quite the jousting for lineup spots.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s teammate listings, Fisher’s most common forward linemates last season were Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, and Austin Watson. Perhaps Fisher would once again line up with Watson and also with Sissons, giving the Predators two faceoff options on that line? That wouldn’t be the worst scenario, considering how tweaked faceoff rules means that pivots get kicked out of the dot somewhat often.

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Again, it’s pretty easy to understand why Fisher is coming back. If you saw the wild, fun scene in “Smashville” – even on TV – you’d probably get why that pull is so strong.

Management notes that there is no specific timetable for his return, which might explain some of the vagueness about where he’ll fall in the lineup.

Those questions are tough to answer, yet it’s better to have too much of a good thing rather than not enough. When you note that the Predators came into this season with questions about center depth, the additions of Turris and return of Fisher now make an already formidable team that much more balanced.

It’s fair to say that Laviolette will have a balancing act on his hands if his team is reasonably healthy, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils trade Blake Coleman to Lightning for Foote, first-round pick

Blake Coleman Trade
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The for sale sign is officially up for the New Jersey Devils.

The team completed its second trade of the day on Sunday evening when it sent forward Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for prospect Nolan Foote and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick that previous belonged to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Lightning originally acquired that pick from the Canucks over the summer in the J.T. Miller trade. If the Canucks fail to make the playoffs this season, they will hold on to the 2020 first-round pick and the Devils will then receive the Canucks’ 2021 first-round pick.

Just hours before sending Coleman to the Lightning, the Devils traded captain Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for David Quenneville and a second-round draft pick.

It’s a little surprising to see the Devils part with Coleman because he is one of their best players and is signed for one more season at a bargain salary cap hit of just $1.8 million. He is an excellent penalty killer and proven 20-goal scorer in the league. He is currently on track for 30 goals this season.

The only reason they were willing to part with him now: The Lightning were willing to pay a fairly steep price to get him. Along with the conditional first-round draft pick that belongs to Vancouver, the Devils are also getting Foote, the Lightning’s 2019 first-round draft pick (No. 27 overall). He is currently playing for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and is now going to be counted on to be part of the Devils’ future alongside recent top picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.

The Devils could now be in a position to have three first-round draft picks this season. Along with their own, they also have a top-three protected pick from the Arizona Coyotes (Taylor Hall trade) and also the conditional pick from the Canucks.

As for the Lightning, this is a pretty big addition and makes an already dominant team that much deeper and stronger. They are already riding a 10-game winning streak entering the week.

Coleman is now one of five players on the Lightning (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, and Brayden Point) to already have 20 goals this season. Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat could eventually get there as well.

Related: Islanders acquire Devils captain Andy Greene

Brothers from the Congo flourishing on the ice

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Over 10 years ago Steve and Molly Seidl of Stillwater, Minnesota, adopted two brothers, Sawyer and Simon, from an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the time, they were three and five years old, and after settling in their new home the two brothers began to play hockey, garnering attention with skills few would have anticipated.

While this hockey family has dealt with some unwelcome attention due to the color of Sawyer and Simon’s skin, that has not affected their passion and love for the game.

In fact, it has motivated them to push forward. The brothers hope to be an example for others, removing labels and barriers to allow everyone an opportunity to play.

Now 13 and 15 years old, they are dominating their age groups and playing in youth tournaments all over the world.

You can check out their story in the video above.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues-Ducks game rescheduled for March 11; Blues-Panthers game also moved

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The NHL announced on Sunday that the postponed game between the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks from this past week has been rescheduled for March 11 in Anaheim.

That game was initially postponed just seven minutes into the first period when veteran Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the team’s bench due to a cardiac episode.

The two teams will replay the full 60 minutes, but the game will begin with a 1-1 score, which was the score at the time of the postponement.

As a result of this rescheduling, the NHL also announced that the Blues game against the Florida Panthers, originally scheduled for March 10, will now be played on March 9 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins hold off Rangers, improve lead atop Atlantic, NHL

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The Bruins and Rangers both came into Sunday playing good hockey. It makes sense, then, that Boston needed to work hard to beat the Rangers 3-1. By persevering, the Bruins improved their lead over Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and thus the entire NHL.

Charlie McAvoy opened the scoring with a strange goal. Charlie Coyle collected a shorthanded game-winner, while Mika Zibanejad scored New York’s lone goal. Patrice Bergeron iced the win with a remarkably fancy empty-netter.

Jaroslav Halak continues to be a strong backup for the Bruins, stopping 25 out of 26 shots. Alexandar Georgiev took the loss for New York, allowing two goals on 33 SOG. It was likely a frustrating game for Chris Kreider, who didn’t score despite four SOG and suffered a -4 rating.

Bruins – Rangers special teams battle

New York’s power play failures told the early part of the story.

Through the first two periods, the Rangers man advantage went 0-for-4. That number only tells part of the story, really. New York squandered a four-minute power play after Ryan Lindgren was bloodied by a high stick. Coyle dug the knife in deeper with that shorthanded goal later in the middle frame.

This Rangers team boasts some dangerous scorers, though, and Mika Zibanejad made that clear by breaking through. Zibanejad scored a power-play tally to tighten things up, with assists from usual suspects Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

Bruins bolster Atlantic lead, Rangers see streak ended

Again, these two teams had been playing well lately.

Boston clearly hears the footsteps of the hard-charging Lightning. The Bruins extended their winning streak to three games, and have won nine of their last 10 games (9-1-0). This updated look at that battle for the top spot in the Atlantic reminds that this was a valuable, hard-fought win for the B’s:

Bruins: 86 points in 60 games played
Lightning: 83 points in 59 GP

The Bruins fattened their lead in the Atlantic, which also ranks as the current Presidents’ Trophy race. Of course, the Lightning can slim that right back down to one point with by winning their game in hand.

Meanwhile, the Rangers suffered a painful blow to their shaky playoff hopes, falling to 64 points in 58 GP. This loss ended the Rangers’ season-long four-game winning streak; it’s also merely the Rangers’ third loss in 10 games (7-3-0).

NBCSN Hockey Day in America remaining schedule

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.