With the Nashville Predators acquisition of center Mike Fisher from the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, the Predators fill a huge need at center.
The lost of centers Matthew Lombardi and Cal O'Reilly have added more than 75 man games lost.
For the record, the Predators have lost 209 man games so far this season and that number will continue to climb.
After signing free agent center Matthew Lombardi this off season, Predators general manager David Poile added a player with great skill, speed and hockey sense, all attributes to play in Coach Barry Trotz's high tempo, puck possession style of game.
No one figured then that Lombardi would have been lost to the Preds almost immediately after only playing in 2 1/2 games before sustaining a concussion against the Chicago Blackhawks in mid-October.
Lombardi has missed the last 53 games (and counting) and the chances of his return this season seem slim to none.
Lombardi has a history of concussions.
Enter rookie center Cal O'Reilly
O'Reilly emerged from the pack to not only accept the duties of a top line center, but also embraced them.
Playing on a line featuring veteran winger Steve Sullivan and sniper Patric Hornqvist, O'Reilly was leading the team in scoring upon breaking his ankle which effectively ended his breakout season with the Preds.
This line contributed to the early successes of the team.
Coach Trotz then went back to the drawing board and created the line of Marcel Goc at center flanked by wingers Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn. To date, this has been Nashville's most effective and consistent line since it's inception; both Goc and Erat missed time earlier in the season.
However, Goc has experienced bumps and bruises lately playing in a role that he is excelled at, but has limited experience playing in first line minutes. His icetime has jumped up and his efforts are paying off, but the Predators can't afford to loose Goc either.
Nick Spaling has also seen his icetime climb as the season has progressed.
The question heading into the trade deadline was will GM Poile make a move to add depth to the teams top six forwards, mostly at center.
Getting a jump on things, Poile pulled the trigger by exchanging a first round selection in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012 to Ottawa for center Mike Fisher. The conditional picks are performance based on the clubs playoff success this season.
Let's just say that the Senators are now Predators fans.
Enter Mike Fisher
The 11 season veteran was orginally drafted by the Senators in the second round of the 1998 NHL Entry draft—the same draft that yielded first ever and current Predator David Legwand, Denis Arkhipov and Karlis Skrastins.
Fisher is very much in the same mold of Matthew Lombardi, both have excellent speed and hockey sense. Fisher will add more postseason experience and is a very effective two-way player.
With the addition of Fisher to the team's top six forwards, the Predators are now poised to construct two effective lines that can play at both ends of the rink. This should have an immediate effect on the Preds top line of Kostitsyn-Goc-Hornqvist by allowing Coach Trotz to monitor their icetime and increase their effectiveness.
Fisher is a team player who will be able to adjust his game to play with others. Although not considered a top line center, Fisher's style of play is very suitable to that of the Predators systems.
There is potential for others to emerge.
Successful clubs in the postseason are teams that find secondary scoring which usually comes from having two top centers.
Other players such as Nick Spaling and Joel Ward have done admiral jobs at supporting the top line and add some timely scoring.
That should continue now with Fisher's arrival.
Are the lines set?
While Kostitsyn-Goc-Hornqvist seems a safe bet moving forward, Fisher could see time with any of them down the stretch given the game situation.
Fisher centering a line with Steve Sullivan and possibly Colin Wilson might work out as well. The potential is there for Fisher to flank the under achieving JP Dumont with either Ward or Wilson.
Either way, coach Trotz will have options moving forward.
The Preds will have a solid 27 games remaining in the regular season to work in Fisher.
Do the Preds Add Anymore?
A general feeling is that the Predators would like to acquire another depth defenseman and forward.
The message has been sent that Poile isn't interested in trading any roster players, but it will likely come down to what any potential offer might be.
Defenseman to consider, Steve Montador of the Buffalo Sabres might be available. He will be a UFA at season's end with a base salary of $1.3M, which might be a good fit as would another UFA Radek Martinek of the New York Islanders.
On Another Note
The Predators have Marcel Goc, Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward and Marek Svatos as UFA's at seasons end. The club also has a group of RFA's in Sergei Kostitsyn, Cal O'Reilly and Nick Spaling.
All three RFA players have an average age of just 23 years old.
Acquiring Fisher, who has another two years of term remaining at $4.2 M/season is easy for the Preds to handle, should UFA's elect to sign elsewhere next season.
Predators begin a four game homestand starting Saturday, vs Colorado. Sharks, Canucks and Coyotes all visit Bridgestone Arena.
San Jose has emerged lately and are currently one point ahead of the Preds.
Mike MacDonald is a Featured Columnist covering the Nashville Predators and the NHL.
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