NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Nashville Predators.
[PREDATORS 31 IN 31: Season Preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]
The Nashville Predators believe their run to the Stanley Cup Final last season was a stepping stone toward their goal of winning the Cup for the first time in their history.
The chances of that happening depend on the answers to these questions:
1. Who replaces Mike Fisher as captain?
With the 37-year-old center's retirement after 17 NHL seasons, the Predators will be searching for a captain for the second time in as many seasons.
Fisher was named captain last season following the trade of defenseman Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman P.K. Subban on June 29, 2016. It took some time for the Predators to get used to life without Weber, but they should be better equipped to handle Fisher's departure with younger players transitioning into bigger leadership roles this season.
Defensemen and alternate captains Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis appear to be the prime candidates to replace Fisher. The experience the Nashville core gained in the run to the Cup Final should aid them in replacing Fisher's leadership.
Video: Mike Fisher announces his retirement
2. What impact can Nick Bonino have offensively?
The Predators signed Bonino to a four-year, $16.4 million contract (average annual value of $4.1 million) on July 1 with the expectation that he could have a larger role and more offensive responsibility with them after he had 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season playing behind centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"I think playing behind [Crosby and Malkin], when you chip in, it's always helpful, but they're going to get the lion's share of minutes and points and power-play time," Bonino said. "When [Malkin] got hurt [last season], I think that was when I got a lot of my points in [Pittsburgh], when there was more ice."
If Bonino can translate that larger role into more offensive production, the Predators may be the deepest they've ever been at center.
Video: 31 in 31: Nashville Predators 2017-18 season preview
3. Can Kevin Fiala have a breakout season?
Perhaps no player is being counted on more than Fiala to replace the production of forward James Neal, who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. Neal scored 77 goals in three seasons with Nashville and has scored more than 20 goals each of his nine NHL seasons.
Fiala, 21, had 16 points (11 goals, five assists) in 54 NHL games last season and two goals in five Stanley Cup Playoff games before breaking his left femur in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the St. Louis Blues. If he can continue to evolve and approach 20 goals this season, the Predators will have a young forward group that should be potent offensively.