F is for Fisher, as in Mike Fisher, Ottawa's former #12. Few players have been more beloved in the history of the Ottawa Senators than Mike Fisher. Drafted in the second round, 44th overall by the Senators in the 1998 NHL Draft, Fisher made his debut for the Sens the following season in 1999-2000.
Fisher was always involved in the community, acting as the honorary chair of Roger's House for five years and running a charity hockey camp, the proceeds of which support the Make A Wish Foundation. It was Mike's happiness to be involved in these causes that was most striking, and no contribution was more memorable or iconic than Mike's skate with Elgin: http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=d9793dc8-9472-4fab-ac46-d1229480a80a&k=13288 .
Mike was also popular for other reasons. His OT winner against Toronto on April 18, 2004 forced a seventh game and many of us felt like that the playoff futility against the Leafs was about to end. Post-lockout, he was part of a triumvirate (along with not-yet-balding Jason Spezza and Antoine Vermette) of good-looking players that were favourites with a subsection of Senators fans. In the heady days of the 2005-2007 teams, I remember the signs and screams these players received during the intros (this is secretly why we traded for Filatov). Fisher is part of another group with Spezza - Sens players who have filled in for injured goalies during practice. In 2009, Fisher's brother Bud stepped in for, who else, Pascal Leclaire, when the NHL-keeper was sick/injured.
Yet, on the ice Fisher's performance with the Senators remains polarizing. Lauded for his aggressive, physical, two-way play, Fisher was a finalist for the Selke Trophy in 2006. However, Fisher's five year, $21 million contract extension before the start of the 2007-08 season raised expectations and divided fans. Before the extension, Fisher was good value, contributing in both ends. With the extension and raise, more offense was expected from the number two centre as the team's goal-scoring depth slowly eroded away.
When Bryan Murray traded Fisher to Nashville in advance of the trade deadline last February, it officially ended an era that had been on its last legs for some time. In many ways, it was the trade that needed to happen first, and the shock of it helped quickly change the mindset of most Sens fans - we were now rebuilding. There was debate about whether we could have got more, but I was glad to see Mike go to his second home, Nashville, and I believe that Murray's gesture to a loyal team servant only improves the club's reputation among players across the league.
Yet it is the "Mike Fisher isn't really a No. 2 centre. He's a great third-line centre, masquerading as a top-six forward" debate that in many ways still defines his career in Ottawa. There have been many people on this site who have pointed out Mike Fisher's offensive production in the second line role, and Ian Mendes penned a very good summary of Mike's ability at the start of Fisher's final season with the Sens. (http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/2010/09/22/mendes_second_to_none/).
The reality is, there are only a small handful of second line centres who put up bigger offensive numbers than Fisher, but they generally come with considerably more dollars and a larger cap hit. In a cap system, I would rather pay my second line center around $4 million a season than around $6.5 million (hello Danny Briere). Hockey fans talk a lot about top six forwards and Fisher is certainly one of them. But playing center is different. If Fisher had been a winger, you would probably not have heard a word about his offensive production. But because he is a center, and because that position is responsible for generating offense, taking important draws, playing a 200 foot game in front of both nets, centers are always under more scrutiny. Top centers can never play on the periphery and are seen some of the most important players to their teams.
Every team wants secondary scoring. A one line team cannot cut it over the course of a season and the playoffs. Fisher's offensive totals from 05-06 to 07-08 fit the second line center role perfectly (seasons of 22, 22, and 23 goals, with 44,48, and 47 points); however, in his last three seasons (08-09 to 10-11) Fisher only once had over 40 points. I will cut him some slack for last season, as so many Senators were terrible, filling in for Spezza on the top line was asking too much of him, and the trade probably resulted in his lowered totals. Yet, Fisher posted his career highs (79-25-28-53), in 2009-10 even when the Senators stopped being an elite team. Fisher seems to have his offensive touch back this season for Nashville (55-18-20-38). Adjusted over the course of the whole 2011-12 campaign, Fisher would have 26 goals and 28 assists for 54 points, which would be career highs.
What was most frustrating about Fisher was his streaky scoring. Let's take a closer look at his career year as a Senator. Mike started 2009-10 hot, collecting points in 13 of his first 20 games, including six multi point games. But he would also go on a 15-game goal scoring drought from December 12, 2009 to January 16, 2010. He also had goalless stretches of 7 and 6 games in the final months of the season. He did have three multi-goal games, but I think Sens fans would have preferred a more consistent goal scoring threat. His final season with Ottawa shows a similar pattern. In his final 55 games with Ottawa, Mike scored 14 goals. However, his season featured several dry spells, including droughts of 7, 6, 6, 5, 5, 5, and only scoring once in his last 8 games as a Senator. Mike scored in bunches last year, 6 of his 14 goals came during multi-goal games. While Mike's physical presence and defensive play ensure he always contributes even when not scoring, all teams strive for consistent secondary scoring. Mike's Nashville career is off to a good start, with 18 goals in 55 games this season. However, his consistency remains an issue. 8 of those 18 goals have come in multi-goal games. He has had goal droughts of 9, 8, 5, and 5 games so far this season.
I think most fans wished we had the problem of the Vancouver Canucks (Sedin and Kesler), the Chicago Blackhawks (Toews and Sharp), or Pittsburgh Penguins (Malkin and Staal/Crosby or whatever), of having two legit number one centers play 1-2 down the center of the ice for our team. Many of us have big hopes for Kyle Turris' first full season with the Senators next year and hope he is able to effectively replace Mike Fisher.
Ultimately, for present and future Senators, Mike Fisher's play, leadership, and dedication to the community remain the standard to emulate.