OTTAWA – It looks like rebuilding plans are underway in the nation’s capital.
The struggling Ottawa Senators sent forward Mike Fisher to Nashville on Thursday in exchange for the Predators’ first-round pick this year and a conditional pick in next year’s NHL entry draft.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray expects more changes to be made ahead of the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
“We have a plan in place and an idea that we want to restructure the hockey team to again be a competitive club,” Murray said on a conference call.
Fisher, 30, has played 675 career NHL games—all with the Senators. He has recorded 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) and 33 penalty minutes in 55 games this season.
It has been a disastrous season for the Senators, who are winless in 11 games and sit last in the Northeast Division with 42 points.
“We know that we have to make some changes,” Murray said. “When we perform like we did this year, a variety of things have to happen.”
Nashville, meanwhile, is gearing up for a playoff run. The Predators are just five points behind first-place Detroit in the Central Division.
Fisher is married to music star Carrie Underwood, who has a home in Nashville. The couple married last summer in Georgia.
“I’m sure there was a lot of places and a lot of teams that would’ve coveted Mike,” Nashville general manager David Poile said on a conference call. “But on the surface the fit for Nashville with his wife, certainly we’re hoping is going to be an attractive situation for Mike and his wife.”
The Predators hope to have his work visa completed Friday so he can be in the lineup Saturday night against Colorado.
Fisher said news of the trade was a bit of a shock that he still was trying to process, but he’s excited about joining the Predators.
“They’re a very good team, and it’ll be kind of like going home for me,” Fisher said on the Senators’ website. “I’m sure my wife won’t be disappointed, either. But I think it’s a great place for me and family and everything.”
Poile said the Predators have always liked Fisher and his game. The veteran forward plays well on special teams, averages plenty of ice time, and is under contract for the next two seasons.
“This is not a rental like a lot of deals are at the trading deadline,” Poile said. “Mike is signed for the next two years so this is a deal that is hopefully going to help us down the stretch this year, but hopefully help us for a lot of years to come.”
Fisher’s annual salary cap hit is US$4.2 million. He’ll make $4 million next season and $3 million in 2012-’13. The teams began talking about the deal a week ago.
A native of Peterborough, Ont., Fisher was originally selected by Ottawa with the 44th overall pick in the 1998 NHL entry draft. He was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward in 2006.
Fisher has recorded at least 20 goals in four of the last five seasons. The six-foot-one, 208-pounder has 28 points (14-14) in 75 career post-season games.
“Mike’s playoff experience will be invaluable to our team and he immediately makes our team stronger and deeper,” Poile said.
The trade will give the Predators some much-needed depth up front. Steve Sullivan has been nursing a chronic groin injury this season, centre Matthew Lombardi has missed all but two games due to a concussion and forward Marek Svatos has been hampered by a knee injury.
The conditional pick in the trade will be Nashville’s third-round selection if the Predators win one round in the post-season this year. The pick becomes a second-round selection in 2012 if Nashville wins two rounds or more.
“It’s a fine line here in the NHL,” Poile said. “We’re obviously banking that Mike Fisher, along with the parts we already have, will just kind of complete our forward line and just make us a little bit better.”
The Predators are desperate to advance past the opening playoff round after reaching the post-season five times in the past six years. Poile was pleased he didn’t have to part withany of his highly prized prospects or anyone on his roster to make the deal.
Reaction to the trade was mixed in Ottawa, where Fisher was a fan favourite. The deal was a hot topic on radio phone-in shows. Many callers were sad to see Fisher go while others were happy the team is looking to the future.
However, one local top-40 radio station clearly wasn’t pleased, going so far as to ban Underwood’s songs from the station. The New 105.3 Kiss FM called the trade“a betrayal to our community”and said Fisher“was lured away from Ottawa by a country-music superstar.”
In Nashville, The Tennessean website used the following headline for the trade story: “Predators acquire Mike Fisher, Carrie Underwood’s husband.”
Underwood issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, saying they will truly miss Ottawa.
“Mike has been such a big part of the community, and I will never forget how they welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “We obviously love Nashville, and the teams’ decision for him to now play with the Predators is an exciting opportunity for Mike. I support him wherever he plays!”
Fisher and Underwood tied the knot at a luxury resort in Georgia last summer after dating for over a year. She told People magazine last March that they planned to keep homes in Nashville and in Peterborough.
Underwood, 27, rose to fame after winning the fourth season of “American Idol.” The five-time Grammy Award winner has sold more than 13 million albums with 13 No. 1 hits. She has also twice been named the Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year.
With files from The Associated Press.