From 2010 to 2016, Shea Weber was the Nashville Predators captain, on his way to becoming the longest-serving captain in the team’s history. In over 700 games with the Predators, Weber is third in all-time scoring with 443 points, behind David Legwand (566 points) and Martin Erat (481 points). When a trade to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Norris-winning defenseman P.K. Subban signalled the end of his career as Predators captain, the question surrounding the team quickly became about who would become the next Nashville Predators captain.
Many names were thrown into the debate, all with respected reasons on how they could be suitable for the team’s next big leader. While general manager David Poile could opt to go with four alternate captains to start the season, his options seem to be stacked enough to be able to make his decision before the start of the 2016-17 season.
With no captain named at this time, here is a look at some of those options.
Naming the next Nashville Predators Captain
James Neal, 28
(Last season: 82 GP, 31 G, 27 A, 58 P)
Soon to be 29, James Neal is entering his ninth season in the NHL and third with the Predators. Last season, Neal returned to form, tallying 31 goals and finishing with the second-highest goal scoring of his career. It also marked the eight consecutive season where Neal scored at least 20 goals, demonstrating his consistency at filling the net. Off the ice, he has embraced the Nashville community by hosting the James Neal Hockey Clinic, a program that benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee. He teaches young children how to fire pucks to the back of the net, something he’ll then do himself, starting in October.
In terms of leadership, Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy gives Neal the thumbs up. “Nealer is coming off his best season, as far as the two in Nashville; we felt that he provided great leadership for us both on and off the ice,” he said, earlier this month. “We know he can put up the points that he does and become that great, 200-foot player that we expect. He’s a power forward type of guy, and that’s the way he has to play to be effective.”
Filip Forsberg, 22
(Last season: 82 GP, 33 G, 31 AM 64 P)
In just two seasons, Filip Forsberg has turned into a household name and is one of the finest offensive-minded players in the franchise’s history. He has led the Predators in goals and points in his rookie and sophomore campaigns, and his 33-goal season last year tied Jason Arnott‘s single-season franchise record. What’s scary to think about is that he just turned 22 earlier this month.
Forsberg, who came to Nashville via a lopsided trade with the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat and Michael Latta, is an important factor in the Predators top-six and will need to remain consistent if Nashville wants to be a threat in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His recent six-year contract with the club shows that he is also committed to the team long-term.
“He’s shown maturity beyond his age, he’s focused, and I think he’s the type of guy that’s just going to get better,” McCarthy said. “What I like about Filip, he’s not satisfied with where he is; he wants to become that complete player. He’s a guy that down the road is going to become a guy that’s not just a good player with our team, but a really good player in the NHL on a consistent basis.”
Mike Fisher, 36
(Last season: 70 GP, 13 G, 10 A, 23 P)
The 36-year-old veteran Mike Fisher has embodied Music City to a tee. After being traded in the middle of the 2010-11 season from the Ottawa Senators, Fisher has spent the last five seasons in Nashville. Last season, he was predominantly featured as the team’s third-line centre, adding solid two-way play and the ability to kill penalties.
While his totals don’t exactly scream out anything remarkable, he did spearhead the team’s push in the second round of last year’s playoffs, despite their shortcomings, with six points in seven games. Off the ice, Fisher has ventured into may charitable causes and is also married to beloved country music artist Carrie Underwood.
Entering his seventh season wearing Nashville colors, and climbing up there in age, Fisher’s last hoorah may be coming up soon. However, implemented in a natural role as the team’s third-line centre, it could possibly extend his career in hockey for a few more seasons, especially with reduced minutes. Fisher could play another two years, maybe even three, and serve as a transitional captain to the team before he retires and passes off the torch to one of the many younger stars on the team. After serving most his time with the Predators as an alternate captain, it could be time for him to wear the C.
Roman Josi, 26
(Last season: 81 GP, 14 G, 47 A, 61 P)
When Weber was traded out of Nashville, all eyes turned to his defensive partner, Roman Josi. In four seasons with the Predators, the second-round pick evolved into a complete defenseman, excelling in his own zone and making all the right plays while continuing to improve his point production in each year. In fact, his two-way play was good enough to mask the flaws of an ageing Weber, enough to allow Weber to focus on his aggressive, physical style while firing pucks into the back of the net. If his 55-point campaign two years ago wasn’t enough to convince skeptics, he then followed it up with a 61-point season last year, breaking the franchise’s single-season record for points by a defenseman.
At 26, Josi is entering his prime and his peak of 60+ points while not giving up anything defensively certainly is strong traits of future captain. He’s also setting an example for young, up-and-coming defensemen that are itching to make the club. “Each and every day he comes to the rink and wants to get better. I think that’s another good example for our defense that he is a very consistent player that has a great future ahead of him,” assistant coach Phil Housley said about the Swiss-born blue-liner. “He is eager to get better as a player, and that’s great for a coach to have a guy who wants to get better, who wants to win and be the best he can be.”
P.K. Subban, 27
(Last season: 68 GP, 6 G, 45 A, 51 P)
If you felt the shock-waves during the off-season, Subban is, in large part, to blame for it. The disgruntled and misunderstood defenseman was sent packing out of Montreal for Weber in a deal that still has some scratching their heads. At 27, Subban has built up a reputation of being one of the most entertaining and marketable players in the league. It hasn’t been all flowers though, as a vocal minority have suggested his attitude and mantra often come off as a distraction and played a major part in the falling out between he and his former management, particularly general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien.
Last season, Subban’s year came to a screeching halt when a collision between he and then-teammate Alexei Emelin injured Subban’s neck. His recovery seems to have went well, as the 27-year-old looks to be in top shape and good spirits. Since his move, Subban has fully embraced the culture in Nashville, singing country music in karaoke bars and site-seeing around the city. “I got to know him at the All-Star game last year and we got along really well,” said potential partner Josi. “He’s a great guy and obviously a great player and I think he is going to fit really well in Nashville. With our coach, he wants to play a skating and fast paced game and I think that is exactly how P.K. plays.”
Nashville management are faced with quite the conundrum in this situation. One one hand, Fisher could be an excellent choice as he provides veteran experience and is a true leader on and off the ice. He could also serve as a transitional captain, allowing the younger players to focus on the game without the pressure of being the captain at the same time.
However, both Josi and Subban are hitting their primes and are excellent candidates to be the true leader of the team. For Josi, it would be a true passing of the torch, as he would go from learning the game by the side of Weber, to taking Weber’s place as the captain. For Subban, he’s someone that could step in right away, be the voice of the locker room to which hi team mates would listen. But is it too soon? And would Fisher’s service give Subban time to meld with the team?
Forsberg may be too young at this time, but if the Predators management play their cards right, he could be a life-time name in Nashville and evolve from one of the most energetic young players in the league to one of the biggest leaders in the league. For Neal, his game would likely be best served as the guy who scores on the top line, focusing on that aspect of the game. We’ve seen other like-minded offensive players being given the C, like Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens, and their game shifted to becoming a leader, which in turn cost the team some production that they were used to seeing.
At this time, it looks to be between Fisher and Josi, however any of the aforementioned names could very well be the next Nashville Predators captain.