When Nashville Predators GM David Poile introduced Roman Josi as the franchise’s eighth captain on Tuesday, he said it was the right time for the 27-year-old to take on the responsibility. And not that there has ever been any reason to question Poile, one of the most successful and well-respected GMs in the league, but he couldn’t have been more accurate in his assessment.
After the team’s captaincy was vacated for the second straight summer following the retirement of Mike Fisher, the focus in Nashville turned to his replacement. There were plenty of suggestions, from members of the deep blueline to one of the offensive studs up front, but Josi’s name was always the one that stuck out most.
Even last summer, when the captaincy was up in the air following the trade of Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens, it seemed like Josi was one of the clear front-runners. The honor, as we know now, went to Fisher, but even with the ‘C’ heading to the veteran pivot, it seemed like a situation where he was a transitional captain, a leader with an expiration date.
Reason being is that Josi, especially following the trade of Weber, had moved into the position as the team’s top defenseman, a role he had earned in every sense of the word. Just consider his development: by his sophomore season, he had rocketed up the depth chart to a first-pairing role. He showed his gift for the offensive game by his third season and has excelled in each season since, scoring 205 points in 306 games over the past four campaigns, the fifth-most among all NHL defensemen. And by Year 4, Josi was a serious Norris Trophy candidate, finishing fifth in voting. He has followed it up with fifth- and 11th-place finishes across the past two seasons, respectively, and some would have argued that his well-rounded game made him the Predators’ premier defenseman even before the trade that sent Weber packing.
That said, there would have been cause for concern if the franchise regressed last season under Josi’s watch as the Predators’ undisputed No. 1 rearguard. Quite the opposite happened, however. While Josi had a down year offensively, he took a bigger role on the back end and in the dressing room, helping to guide the league’s best blueline. He averaged more ice time than any other Predators rearguard, a whopping 25 minutes per night, and he helped Nashville weather an early storm to turn things around and land a playoff spot. And we all know what happened next.
Over the next two months in the 2017 NHL playoffs, Josi took his game to another level. He was the Predators’ second-highest post-season scorer, registering six goals and 14 points in 22 games, and his contributions ranged from the power play to the penalty kill and even included a game-winning goal as he skated the biggest minutes of any defender. The Predators went on to sweep the Chicago Blackhawks, defeat the St. Louis Blues and pushed past the Anaheim Ducks. And when all was said and done, Josi had helped guide the Predators to a Western Conference championship and the franchise’s first-ever berth in the Stanley Cup final.
Thus, it seemed to some that even if Fisher would have stuck around for one more year, he was only going to be keeping the ‘C’ warm for when Josi was believed to be ready. And when Fisher hung up his skates this summer, it only made sense that the Predators would shuffle the captaincy down the line to Josi, who is now another year older, more experienced and has a better understanding of what it means to be the captain having watched not only Weber but also Fisher in the role.
Of course, others outside the organization — and possibly some within — had their favorites, but many of those players have been recognized in one way or another. Ryan Ellis, for example, will take on the newly minted associate captain role. Mattias Ekholm, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen, meanwhile, will each serve as alternate captains. But that does leave some outside the official captaincy roles, the most notable of which is P.K. Subban.
While Subban was acknowledged as one of the members of the team’s “leadership group,” that he won’t be wearing a letter on his sweater next season will be a head-scratcher for some. After all, Subban arrived in exchange for Weber as part of last summer’s most highly publicized trade, and the 28-year-old, who is big in skill and personality, has a lot to offer on the ice, in the dressing room, in front of the media and in the community. But to suggest Subban should have been or needed to be a part of the fabric of the leadership group, wearing an ‘A’ or even leaping above Josi and earning the ‘C,’ is a stretch. No doubt, Subban brings an almost intangible excitement to the franchise and his acquisition helped further legitimize the Predators as a playoff threat and Stanley Cup contender, but his tenure with the club has only spanned one season and is exceeded by every player with a letter.
There’s something to be said for tenure with an organization, too, and it’s something Josi most certainly has. No player, not Ellis, Ekholm, Forsberg or Johansen, has been through the highs and lows with the team that Josi has. When he came aboard full-time in 2012-13, the Predators had the first of what ended up being two straight seasons outside of the playoff picture. The second of those years, the 2013-14 season, was an 88-point campaign, the worst the franchise had had since 2008-09.
Now, coming off the best season the team has seen, Josi is the face, both on and off the ice, of the almost complete 180 the Predators have done. And factoring in Josi’s development, value and experience with the franchise, there couldn’t have been a better choice to wear the ‘C’ in Nashville.
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