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Sens look to future by swapping Fisher for draft picks

Bruce Bennett/2010 Getty Images

As predicted, the dismantling is under way in Ottawa.

A year ago, a news flash that the Senators were sending popular Mike Fisher to Nashville - where his wife Carrie Underwood is a major country star - would have been met with cries of despair.

On Thursday afternoon, when news of the trade broke, it is a wonder fans didn't roll out their Senators window flags - despite the -14C wind chill - and take to the Queensway with blaring horns.

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A year ago, however, the Senators were just coming off an 11-game winning streak that would take them into the playoffs. On Wednesday, in a remarkable coincidence, their losing streak hit 11 in a row when they fell 5-2 to the Calgary Flames.

Instead of the playoffs, Ottawa fans for weeks now have turned their hopes to the June draft and the complete rebuilding of this once-solid team that reached the 2007 Stanley Cup final.

In exchange for Fisher, a 30-year-old forward who has played all his 11 seasons in Ottawa, the Senators will get the Predators' first-round pick this June and a conditional pick in the 2012 draft. If Nashville wins one round this spring, a third-round pick, if more than one a second-round pick. If the Predators fail to advance, however, no 2012 pick will be added.

This, combined with the Senators' own first-round pick in June - a pick that at the moment could be as high as first overall - marks a significant first step in the franchise's recent decision to start all over again. But it is only the first step in what promises to be a difficult task for general manager Bryan Murray, given the high and long-term salary commitments the team has to so many underperforming players.

A resilient two-way centre gifted with exceptional speed, Fisher appeared in all 55 Ottawa games this year, scoring 14 times and assisting on 10 other goals. He had the best year of his career last season, leading the Senators with 25 goals. Fisher is nearing the end of a five-year $21-million deal that has often been criticized for its generosity. However, his salary-cap hit of $4.2-million will easily be absorbed by the low-spending Predators.

"It was a bit of a shock," Fisher told media travelling with the team - the Senators play the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday - before he left to join the Predators.

"It's been a great ride."

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Not so much lately, however, where the team has plummeted in the standing and morale has also hit rock bottom. Fisher's exit may soon be followed by the likes of stalwart defenceman Chris Phillips and perhaps even $5-million-a-year Alexei Kovalev, a two-year disappointment who appears to be playing hard lately in order to escape the Senators.

As well, a number of contracts coming to an end this summer will not be renewed, most significant among them Pascal Leclaire, the $4.8-million goaltender who arrived with great fanfare in a 2009 trade and has essentially been on the injury list since.

While Fisher's popularity in Ottawa has been second only to captain Daniel Alfredsson, the move to Nashville carries little surprise, as the possibility had been rumoured for weeks. Not only is Fisher an excellent fit for a rising team in the tough Western Conference, but Underwood's career is Nashville based. Though the recently married couple has been building a fabulous home to the south of Ottawa, few expected them to take up permanent residence.

When Fisher made a cameo appearance in Underwood's video last fall for the release of Mama's Song, it appeared to signal a change in lifestyle that was hardly in keeping with Eastern Ontario: the two snuggling in a Rolls-Royce before walking off together to a waiting private plane.

As well, Underwood's ill-advised recent condemnation of Montreal - "I'm not going back," she declared after her rental car was broken into - had many thinking the former American Idol winner might be souring on Canada. It may well be, of course, that Nashville has no crime.

Nashville would also be much to Fisher's liking, in that the native of Peterborough, Ont., is as passionate about hunting and fishing as he is about hockey, is a huge country music fan and has never been shy about declaring his strong faith in Christianity.

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"I'm excited," he said Thursday. "If there was a place to go, it would be there."

There can be no doubt who the star is in this family. "Predators acquire Carrie Underwood's husband," announced the headline in The Tennessean.

Perhaps, but they also got a pretty fine hockey player.

And in Ottawa, another headline just as easily could have read: "Senators acquire a first step on the future."

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