(Ed. Note: With the Predators’ 1,000th game in franchise history approaching on Saturday, we will be looking back at some of the great players and moments from the first 999 games.)
The Nashville Predators have had six captains in their first 12 seasons. All of them have had a common trait: character. None of the six were really rah-rah guys or said a whole lot, but they received respect from their teammates.
It all started with Tom Fitzgerald, the first captain in franchise history. He was signed in the summer of 2008 and was named captain on the same day. Fitzgerald was entering his 11th NHL season at the time and did well in the tough task of captaining an expansion team.
“He was the ultimate captain for an expansion team because he cared about what was going on, he came to work with great enthusiasm and a great work ethic,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He was really a glue guy for that team in the early years and just led by example – the way he treated people, the way he acted, the way he worked and brought energy to the room. That meant a lot for us.”
After Fitzgerald was dealt to Chicago in 2002, the Preds turned to Greg Johnson as the next captain. Johnson, who was an original Predator, was also a key player in his seven seasons in Nashville. He led by example and captained the Preds as they took the first step from expansion team to playoff team.
“Johnson was a little more of a quieter, solid, two-way guy that would give you his best every day,” Trotz said. “He didn’t say a lot, but when he did everybody respected what he said.”
For two weeks in January of 2003, when Johnson was injured, forward Scott Walker was named the interim captain, officially becoming the third player to wear the ‘C’ in team history.
After Johnson departed in 2006, the Preds gave the captaincy to another original Predator, Kimmo Timonen. The veteran defenseman was a consummate pro in the one year (2006-07) he served as captain. As Jerred Smithson said, Timonen’s experience rubbed off on the Preds, even before he was given the ‘C’.
“He’s played in the NHL for a long time, played in the Olympics and all kinds of international tournaments,” Smithson said. “When he was here, just watching him play the game and think the game, it was impressive. He was a great leader, but an even better person.
“He didn’t have to say a lot, but when did people listened. He competed every night and was so smart and great with the young guys. That’s what you want from a leader.”
The next captain, Jason Arnott, may have had the toughest job of all the captains in the Preds history. Arnott was named captain following the summer of 2007, which was a tumultuous time for the franchise to say the least. No one expected the Predators to go anywhere that season, with the ownership in flux and future up in the air. They made the playoffs in 2007-08, against all odds, as Arnott led the way.
Though it was Arnott’s first time being a captain, his experience of winning was valuable for the locker room.
“Arnott was a fantastic leader,” former Predator Dan Ellis said. “He was the only guy there for a while that had won a Stanley Cup. When you have that veteran presence, when you have that composure of having been there and winning a Cup, and scoring a Cup winning goal, it just carries over to the rest of the guys. It was contagious. There was an aura about him that guys could feed off of. He stabled the ship went it got a little rocky.”
After Arnott was the captain for three seasons, the Preds turned their attention to a new wave of leaders from the young core, starting with defenseman Shea Weber. In 2010, the organization decided to hand the keys over from Arnott, J.P. Dumont and Steven Sullivan to Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne.
The captaincy is a role that has suited Weber well thus far, as the team hopes he can help them go from playoff team to Cup contender.
“Shea is all business,” Trotz said this summer. “He’s cut from the same cloth as a Jonathan Toews – very serious about his craft, leads by example, a no-excuse captain. Shea doesn’t make any excuses for bad play. He only wants to win a Stanley Cup. He demands respect when he’s on the ice, he demands respect when he’s in the room and his presence – the way he trains and how he takes his craft – demands respect. That’s pretty easy to follow.”
The Predators have had numerous ups and downs over the years. Thanks in part to the leadership that they have possessed in the locker room, the franchise has been able to persevere and keep the ship going in the right direction.