NASHVILLE – A year ago this upcoming Friday, the Nashville Predators acquired Mike Fisher in a trade with the Ottawa Senators. Almost a year later, Fisher has made numerous impacts on both the team and the franchise.
Fisher was a player that the Predators had targeted long before he was sent to Nashville because, as head coach Barry Trotz said, “he’d be able to fit right into our culture.” GM David Poile didn’t have any qualms about giving up two draft picks (including a first-round selection) to get Fisher because of his playoff experience, leadership and offensive abilities.
Both Trotz and Poile were correct in their assessments.
“He has come as advertised,” Trotz said.
Fisher’s impact in his first three months with the franchise was immeasurable. Trotz and Poile both stated last spring that the Predators would not have made the playoffs without Fisher. His 12 points in 27 regular season games don’t stand out, but his sheer presence out-weighed the production for a team that needed that one extra piece, one extra veteran presence to complete its playoff puzzle.
Though the production wasn’t there on a consistent basis (due in part to a nagging shoulder injury) Fisher came through in big moments last season. None were bigger than his faceoff win that led to the Preds tying, and eventually winning, Game 5 in Anaheim.
“He’s been one of those intangibles,” Trotz said. “You’re not going to look on a scoresheet and see that he got a goal and three assists. What you’re going to see is he got an assist or he shut down (the other team’s) big line. … I think we’re a hard team to play against, but he defined it and put the period on that.”
Fisher’s biggest assist, however, has come in the dressing room of the NHL’s youngest team. He was rewarded with an ‘A’ before this season started, as he joined captain Shea Weber and assistant captain Ryan Suter in the official leadership group.
“His leadership has been really valuable in terms of young guys watching him prepare and practice,” Trotz said. “Guys (are coming) to the rink a little bit earlier to prepare, where early in the season some of the young guys would show up exactly an hour and a half before the game and they’re not really warming the minds up and not feeling comfortable. They’ve seen (Fisher) prepare and they’ve bought in.”
Eight Predators have made their NHL debut since Fisher was acquired, while other youngsters have come and gone. Fisher’s experience – his resume includes 11-plus NHL seasons, 87 career playoff games and a Stanley Cup final appearance – has rubbed off on his baby-faced teammates.
“He’s obviously a good veteran guy that has been there and has played in a lot of playoff games,” forward Nick Spaling said. “Being a young guy, he’s someone you can learn a lot from – not only the way he plays, but the way he carries himself in the room. He makes sure everybody is ready to go and there’s a lot of focus in the room. He’s a good example for all of us young guys.”
Forward Matt Halischuk added, “Last time I was out of the lineup, he pulled me aside and told me what I needed to hear and made sure I was doing what needed to be done. He’s great like that.”
Fisher doesn’t speak up a whole lot, leading more by example; but the leadership role is one that he relishes.
“I’ve been around long enough now and have been through ups and downs in different situations,” he said. “With that I think you gain appreciation for the game and hopefully that can rub off on other people.
“Leadership is just about doing the right things on and off the ice, helping guys follow and helping guys when you can. We do have a lot of young guys, but they’re all working hard to get better, and that’s a big part of it. It’s been fun having that role.”
One side of the spectrum is what he’s done on the ice and in the locker room to help make the Preds a better team. Then there’s the business side of things, where Fisher’s presence is also making an impact.
When you walk up to Bridgestone Arena, you can’t miss the Texas-sized banner – CEO Jeff Cogen calls it “a banner on steroids” – that greets fans at the main entrance. The faces of four players appear on the banner: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne… and Mike Fisher.
From a hockey point of view, people refer to the ‘big three’ as Weber, Suter and Rinne. From a marketing point of view, it’s really the ‘big four’ because it includes Fisher.
“We speak in terms of Shea, Pekka and Ryan, and (Fisher) gave us another asset, as these players roll off your tongue, to promote,” Cogen said.
“As far as brand extension, he is everything you want the Predators to stand for. He’s committed to the community at the risk of being redundant. He’s the first guy on the ice, last guy off the ice. He’s been a leader in other places and assumed a leadership position here.”
An example of Fisher’s community work stems from a published book – Defender of Faith – that features his hockey- and faith-driven life. All of the proceeds from the book go to two organizations called World Vision (nationally) and Room in the Inn (locally), helping children and homeless people in the process.
Then you have the whole tie-in to Fisher’s wife, country music star Carrie Underwood. Just having Fisher on the team has attracted some of Underwood’s fans to be Preds fans, as well.
“Their family unit has a wow factor,” Cogen said. “Being married to Underwood in this market certainly has its own benefits.”
Upon his arrival, Fisher and Underwood bought a suite in Bridgestone Arena for all of the games. Also, Underwood appeared on the band stage during an intermission in the playoffs last spring and also performed at Brent Peterson’s ‘Petey’s Preds Party’ in September.
Another component to the Fisher acquisition, from a marketing standpoint, was that he was not a rental player. The 31-year-old is under contract through 2013, and Cogen cited that as being a good recruiting chip when selling tickets last summer.
“We tell our fans that we’re not the old Nashville Predators. We’re not going to raise players very timely and then trade them because we can’t afford them. We exhibited that with Pekka. We’re trying our damndest to exhibit it with Shea and Ryan,” said Cogen, who, since coming to the organization before the 2010-11 season, has been instrumental to the spike in fan interest and attendance.
“I like standing in front of our fan base and saying ‘We’re not going to trade our assets. We’re going to drive tickets, which creates revenue. We’re going to invest back in the team. We’re going to keep our superstars and we’re going to add to them at appropriate times in the appropriate places so we can bring the Cup down Broadway’ – and that’s what we did last year (with Fisher).”
The direct impact Fisher (and the “wow factor”) has had on ticket sales is an inexact science. But according to Cogen, from last year’s ticket package customers alone, the Preds have seen an increase of up to 1,000 tickets per game this season.
“Are we selling more tickets because we went to the second round for the first time, or because we added Mike Fisher? I would say ‘Yes.’ It’s both.”
When Fisher was traded to Nashville, a radio station in Ottawa put a ban on Underwood’s music (which has since been lifted). The Ottawa station, KISS 105.3, blamed the trade on Underwood and her presence in Nashville as being a magnet pull for Fisher.
In Nashville, immediately after the trade, The Tennessean’s website featured a headline that read: Predators acquire Carrie Underwood’s husband. “That’s to be expected,” Fisher joked.
Local media embarrassments aside, it was a natural fit from Day 1 and Fisher has enjoyed his time in Music City.
“I’ve had a great time and it’s been really enjoyable to be a part of this organization,” he said. “The beauty about Nashville is that the city is big but it has a small town feeling. There’s so much to do and the people are great.”
Hunting and fishing are popular hobbies in Tennessee, and Fisher has certainly gotten his fill of it. Most importantly, he is no longer 900 miles away from Underwood. Fisher mentioned that when he played in Ottawa, there would be a lot of quick visits to see each other.
“It’s definitely much easier. This is our home and we’re not figuring out our to-and-from schedules. That’s been a real blessing,” Fisher said. “(In Ottawa) we didn’t see a whole lot of each other and that became the norm, so you appreciate all the time together.”
Having Underwood already here in Nashville helped Fisher’s on-the-fly adjustment to a new team and city, the first time he’s had to do so in the NHL.
“Having my wife and a home here made it so easy and life much easier,” Fisher said. “It’s tough because it happened so quickly. You’re kind of shocked right away and there are a lot of different emotions. It’s really strange at first because you’re out of your comfort zone and getting into something new. That being said, that ‘something new’ here was awesome.”
For Fisher, another benefit of the trade was exiting the fish bowl environment in Ottawa and entering a laid back town like Nashville.
“The culture of hockey all throughout Canada is different,” Fisher said. “The fans are great here and love hockey, but away from the rink you’re definitely a little more incognito and able to get away. When you get to the rink you can focus and play hard.
“When I got traded I talked to players that had played here, and everything was positive. They loved playing here with the team, coaching staff, city and fans – everything was positive. All of that has definitely been true. This is a sneaky town that is a great place to play.”
One year is in the books on Fisher’s tenure in Nashville. The team and organization are thrilled to have the do-it-all individual on board.
“You’re talking about a guy that has been a leader on and off the ice, lives his life right, plays the game right and enjoys his role on this team,” Trotz said.
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