More than two months have passed since the trade that sent Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban, a blockbuster that vacated the Predators’ captaincy in the process. But with the season approaching, Nashville isn’t planning to wait much longer before naming a new captain.
Tuesday, the Predators teased an imminent announcement. With one word — “Soon” — and a photo of Nashville’s yellow home jersey with a ‘C’ stitched to the front, Nashville made it clear that the declaration of their newest leader, the successor to Weber, could be but days away.
The replies to the Tweet include suggestions from fans for who could take over the captaincy. There are calls for Mike Fisher to take Weber’s place, some fans hoping James Neal could be the next to don the ‘C’ and others who think the newest star in town, Subban, is ready for the responsibility in his first season in Music City.
But the best choice isn’t a veteran forward like Fisher, a versatile winger like Neal or a fresh-face in the lineup like Subban. Instead it’s the at-times-underrated and definitely underpaid Roman Josi who should be stepping into the leadership role vacated by Weber.
Josi, 26, has sometimes been an afterthought for those who don’t watch the Predators on a nightly basis. Granted, there was a reason for that.
During Weber’s years in Nashville, he was the face of the team, the go-to guy for just about everything and looked to as the biggest impact player in the lineup on a nightly basis. For the past five seasons, the past four of which Josi and Weber have been partners, Josi had been playing in the shadow of Weber, a player who some could consider Josi’s mentor. But even if he doesn’t have the immediate star power of a Weber or potential partner Subban, Josi has been as much the backbone of the Nashville roster as any other player and is as deserving of the captaincy as anyone.
Consider his resume, especially over the past two seasons: back-to-back fifth-place finishes in Norris Trophy voting, ice time that rivals the best and most-heralded defensemen in the game and scoring ability that few defensemen possess. Only Subban, Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Ryan Suter have spent more time on ice than Josi in the past two campaigns, and his 29 goals and 116 points rank eighth and fourth, respectively, among all defensemen over that same span.
There’s also the matter of knowing the team, growing with the team and being there for the long haul when it comes to the captaincy. As for players such as Fisher and Neal, there’s no telling what the future holds. Neal, 29, has two years left on his deal at $5 million per season and Fisher, 36, has one season left at $4.4 million. Both will become unrestricted free agents at the culmination of their deals with the opportunity to head elsewhere. The same will be the case for Josi, sure, but he has more time left than either with four years and $16 million remaining on his deal.
Subban, of course, has the most time of almost anyone remaining on his deal with six years and $54 million left on his contract. The difference, though, is Josi has already established himself as part of the team’s leadership group.
Last season, Josi was given an alternate captaincy but he was a clear part of the team’s core seasons before that. He has averaged upwards of 23 minutes per game since his sophomore campaign, and he was skating 26 minutes-plus by his third season in the league. He may not have had a letter on his jersey but he was a crucial part of the Predators performance with all the responsibility of a player wearing a letter.
Responsibility is one of the keys to Josi’s game, too. While still boasting a ton of offensive flash, Josi has been one of the defenders relied upon most by coach Peter Laviolette in all situations. Since the start of 2014-15, Josi ranks first among Predators defensemen in even-strength ice time, power play ice time and second in shorthanded ice time. And the difference between Josi taking Weber’s spot as the top penalty-killing defender is a scant five seconds of average ice time.
Josi has boasted positive possession numbers, too. According to Puckalytics, Josi is one of only 47 defensemen to play at least 2,000 minutes at 5-on-5 and start more than one-third of those shifts in the defensive zone. Josi’s 50.3 Corsi for percentage ranks 12th among those 47 blueliners.
When considering the players that wear captaincies around the league, they’re generally players who do a bit of everything. There are some captains who are simply superstars, like Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, but players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski chip in all over the ice. The same goes for the blueliners who wear the ‘C’, such as Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan McDonagh, Mark Giordano and Erik Karlsson. In that sense, Josi fits the bill completely.
There’s not necessarily a wrong choice for the captaincy in Nashville, even if that means handing the ‘C’ to Fisher or Neal on a short-term basis, but there is only one best choice. That’s Josi. He’s more than made his case, and he’s ready to step all the way out of Weber’s shadow and into the captaincy that his former partner vacated.
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