Christian Fischer has been at ease all week. The Coyotes forward has been golfing excessively with his teammates, almost all of whom are still in town. There have been barbecues at teammates’ houses, there was a bull riding outing at The Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek, there was an outing with the trainers, and there have been nights out in Old Town Scottsdale.
“It has been nice not to set an alarm in the morning,” Fischer said. “You don’t have to wake up early. You don’t have to perform. You don’t have to do too much. It goes a long way, just being able to sleep in and let your body and mind relax because the NHL grind is as much mental as it is physical.”
After some down time to let his body and mind heal, Fischer will spend the majority of his summer in Arizona, heat be damned. He will continue to stump for the team’s proposed arena. He will train here, and he will help organize the team’s informal skates at the Ice Den Scottsdale that are attracting an increasing number of NHL players including Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Michael Bunting, Tage Thompson, Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway.
In between the ramp up to training and the ramp up to skating, Fischer will have to prepare his mind for most players’ least favorite source of stress: another contract negotiation. Fischer will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights on July 1.
Last summer as an RFA, Fischer accepted his qualifying offer and signed a one-year prove-it deal for $1,126,875. If he signs another one-year deal this summer, it will be his last season under team control before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If that happens, it’s fair to wonder if next season will be his last season in the desert.
“We’ll deal with that contract situation in the summer, but Fisch is a big part of our organization,” GM Bill Armstrong said. “Our plans right now are to have him back, but we’ll see how the negotiations go. A deal with term could be an option. We’ve got to get into our pro meetings, build out our team and see where we’re at, but it could be an option.
“He loves being a Yote. You want that. You want people that want to be there. He wants to be here. He plays with his heart and soul every night for the Yotes.”
Despite a bottom-six role this season, an average ice time of 14:51 that ranked eighth among Coyotes forwards, only about 22 total minutes of power play time, and 64.6 percent of his zone starts coming in the defensive zone, Fischer still had 13 goals (12 at even strength) while solidifying a leadership role on the team as one of its alternate captains.
“I think he played really, really well and he was able to generate some points from his role,” Armstrong said. “I think his game is improving but I think there’s still more he can do. I’d like to see him be a little bit more physical at times, but for the most part, he’s someone that comes to play every night.”
This will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed his career, but Fischer is not hiding his heart’s desire. He wants to sign a longer-term deal this summer.
“I haven’t had too many discussions yet with my agent [Craig Oster] so I don’t want to overstep or say anything I shouldn’t, but I think it’s pretty evident that I love being a Coyote and I put a very, very high value on being a leader on this team,” he said. “I fully believe that in two years’ time, we’re going to be a contending team. I believe that we have the core pieces here to be a playoff team; to win here.
“Arizona is a great place to live with beautiful weather, but we play hockey for a living and I want to win. If I didn’t believe that we could win here, then why would I continue to tell everybody that I want to be here? I hope that this arena situation gets settled over the next couple of weeks because I think that will bring some simplicity to being a Coyote and all the talk that comes with it. All that outside noise has obviously clouded the view of being a Coyote, but I truly do believe in this organization.”
Fischer admits that the contract has been weighing on his mind.
“I don’t care what anybody says in the National Hockey League. When you’re playing in a contract year, it’s always gonna bother you and it’s always gonna be in the back of your head,” he said. “Knowing that I’m set here for x amount of time where my whole job is to be the best player I can be for the Arizona Coyotes instead of worrying about points or how much money I’m gonna get or how long I’m going to sign would definitely make it easier. There’s so many things that creep in your head when you’re up for a contract.
“Obviously, there’s a business side to it; a completely opposite side to this conversation that is real. They have to look at their future and where they see things over the next four, five, six, seven years. I’ve made it evident to them over the last couple of years that this is where I want to be, but at the same time, if a deal doesn’t work out long term I have arbitration and some other options and then I’ll be a free agent in one year’s time, which is not a bad situation at 27 years old.”
Fischer didn’t want to speculate on what might happen if the Coyotes only want to entertain a one-year deal, but given the contracts handed out to other players in the core group such as Lawson Crouse, if a longer-term deal can’t be worked out, it’s safe to assume that Fischer would explore the open market.
It’s hard to quantify what Fischer brings to the room and the team, but coach André Tourigny did a fair job earlier this season of summing up Fischer’s esoteric but very real value.
“There is no bad day in Christian Fischer’s life,” Tourigny said. “He brings a smile to everybody’s face.”
It’s a role that Fischer relishes.
“I believe that I have a good chunk of heart and say in this team,” he said. “I know that the guys love me, care about me and respect the way I play the game and the way I say things in the locker room. I’d love to do that for a lot of years because I believe that I could help this team win.
“Obviously, every guy wants to be a top-six player and be on the power play and do all these great things but I told the coaches and I told Bill, ‘When I see this team going to the playoffs, I see myself being one of the first guys out the door on the PK and I envision myself playing against the top line of the other team every single night.’ I’m gonna be a third-line right wing who can score 15 to 20 goals, but let’s say a right wing gets hurt. Fisch could pop up to the second-line right wing or the first-line right wing.”
Fischer takes great pride in the defensive side of his game; a passion he learned from past teammates such as Brad Richardson, Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and even from assistant coach John Madden.
“I hate to pump Richie’s tires so much,” Fischer said, laughing, “but the LA Kings don’t win Stanley Cups without Brad Richardson.”
It’s difficult for most observers to even perceive a light at the end of the Coyotes’ tunnel, given all of the franchise’s current challenges, but that’s Fischer in a nutshell: a man with a positive outlook, no matter the circumstances.
“There’s been a shit ton of tests and trials here — a lot of bad talk about this organization and a lot of players who have moved on,” he said. “I’ve been through it all. I got drafted by the Coyotes when I was 18 years old. I’ve worked my ass off, starting with the Tucson Roadrunners, and I have such a deep connection to this place. I’ve stuck through it through the bad times and I’ve stuck through it through the good times.
“I believe in it here and I want to be here to see us come out the other side.”
Top photo of Christian Fischer via Getty Images
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