The 6 Million Dollar Man

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:29 PM ET

"Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."

-- Oscar Goldman's opening narration each episode in the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. (1974-1978).

The cynics might say it is only fitting that -- armed with a long-term contract that peaks this season -- Mike Fisher is now the Senators' Six Million Dollar Man.

Better, stronger, faster than any other third-line centre in the NHL, he breaks down even more often than Lee Majors' character in the popular '70s televison series.

In his ninth season with Ottawa, Fisher has only twice played more than 68 games. His career high in appearances came last season when he suited up for 79, but then he missed the playoffs with a knee injury.

That ailment healed, the 28-year-old Peterborough product is derailed by a groin problem.

"Now's the time to be hurt," said Fisher, who missed yesterday's season-opening game against Pittsburgh. "I'll be fine."

For Ottawa's sake, he'd better be fine more often than not.

"I can't wait to get him back in the lineup," coach Craig Hartsburg said when asked about No. 12 and -- in knowing him only a short time -- Fisher's importance and character. "We need a guy like that on our team. You hear lots, and what everybody has told me is exactly what he is. When he's not in the lineup, it's a huge hole for us."

Especially if the Pizza Line is together.

Hartsburg was quick to note that there's more emphasis on the offensive contributions of others if Daniel Alfredsson is skating on a unit with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. And expected to lead the parade of secondary scoring is Fisher and Antoine Vermette.

Fisher, who had 41 goals and 106 points in his last season of junior hockey with the Sudbury Wolves, has never exceeded 23 goals or 48 points in the NHL. Part of that is the injuries and part of that is his devotion to defensive and physical play.

"I think Mike is kind of a guy who can do it all," said Daniel Alfredsson. "He's going to get better and better offensively as he gets older, similar to me I think, in the sense that he's so good at checking and killing penalties, and strong in his own end. He can always fall back on his defence and physical play. I think he can be better offensively."

30-GOAL PLAYER?

But how high can he go? Alfredsson refuses to guess a point total, but does think Fisher has it in him to eclipse the 30-goal plateau. He'll get the opportunity with power play time, but also factoring largely into the equation is who he'll most often get as linemates on a regular shift.

Ah yes, the debate rages through the nation's capital, on talk show radio and in watering holes, offices and beer league dressing rooms -- is Mike Fisher best suited banging and crashing on a third line with a Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu, or, does his lofty salary demand that he plays on the second line, with Vermette and Chris Kelly or Nick Foligno?

He has the physical attributes, style and mentality for the former; the speed and shot for the latter.

Does he have the vision to produce 65-75 points on a second line? The jury is still out on that one.

Where does Fisher himself stand on the issue?

"I think I can be a second- line centre, no question," he said. "I know I'm going to be given the opportunity to play lots of minutes ... wherever the coach sees me best fitted. We'll see how it plays out. Throughout the season and with injuries, there are always changes in lines and match ups or whatever.

"Sometimes you can get caught up in the second and third and all that too much. You can't let that affect you. I've got to concentrate on my game, doing the little things regardless of who I'm playing with.

"When healthy I can definitely get more than (the 47) I did last year ... I'll get 70 points," he added with a chuckle, when pressed for a number. "I want to be one of the top offensive guys. I think I can, but I have to focus more on the process and stuff like that. I think the all-round game rather than points. They come more as a by-product."

But the contract he extended last year does demand concrete results. The $6 million Fisher will be paid this season puts him behind only Heatley ($10 million) and Spezza ($8 million) -- and yes, ahead of Alfredsson and his $5,465,397 -- on the Senators salary depth chart. Fisher will be back down to $4 million next season and the two after it, and is then scheduled to make $3 million before he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2013.

Neil jokes that he hopes Fisher will grab more tabs with his extra income this year.

"I don't think it will change him at all," Neil said of his friend's lofty salary. "He's a hard working player, he brings it every night. That's what he's all about. He's one of the all-round players who are left in the game."

Alfredsson agrees.

PRESSURE FROM MEDIA

"I think maybe the media will put more pressure on him ... obviously, if you don't produce and you make money, you're going to be questioned," said Alfredsson. "But I think with Craig and his coaching staff, they're going to look at how he contributes to the team, and does he help us win. He's always going to do that."

Fisher, meanwhile, says he doesn't believe the extra weight in his wallet will be something he feels on his shoulders.

"I don't think there's any more pressure, I don't think (the salary) is a factor for me," he said. "I'm just going to try and get better every year, just contribute a little bit more.

"I know I expect a lot out of myself. More than most, anyways, so I don't really treat it as any different from any other year. I just have to continue doing some of the things I've done, work as hard as I can. The contract won't change anything."

What remains the same is his fondness of Ottawa and his desire to play his entire career with the Senators.

"It was nice," he said of signing a deal that, barring a trade that would surely alienate a large chunk of the team's fan base, will keep Fisher in a Senators sweater at least until he's 33.

"They wanted me here a long time and I love playing here, I love the guys and the organization. I wouldn't want to play anywhere else. For me it was awesome.

"Would I like to finish my career here? I love playing here, so no question. For sure."


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