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.
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.
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.