That wasn’t always the case for Johansen when it came to his contract negotiations.
In 2014, his talks with the Columbus Blue Jackets were contentious. He felt, coming off a 33-goal star-making season, that he had earned something more than a bridge deal. That he had earned something long term, something that matched his desire to be a franchise player in that city. The Jackets felt otherwise, and they settled on a three-year extension through 2017.
“I’ve earned more than a two- or three-year deal with my play,” Johansen told the Columbus Dispatch in June 2014. “It seems a little disrespectful, to be honest. I want to play in Columbus, and I want to be a Blue Jacket, but I want to get this done. It seems like a slap in the face.”
Johansen, of course, didn’t finish that contract as a Blue Jacket. He was traded to the Predators in January 2016 for Seth Jones, in a move that shocked the hockey world and made Johansen’s awesome backyard basketball court sadly obsolete. Now that was a slap in the face.
Johansen entered Summer 2017 as a restricted free agent. There was, quietly, some concern about his asking price and whether a team with the cap space and the desperate need for a No. 1 center – cough Montreal cough – would take an offer sheet run at him. There was some concern about him staying in Nashville, as the negotiations entered late July.
But the Predators respected his game, as he was tied for the team at 61 points with linemate Viktor Arvidsson. Their trio with Filip Forsberg was one of the NHL’s most dominant lines. His No. 1 center credentials are solid:
Ryan Johansen: prefers to pass more than you might expect but otherwise has mostly top-line results. pic.twitter.com/jYURzFBop8
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 28, 2017
And the Predators wanted him to be their No. 1 center for the next eight years. No messing around with term this time for Johansen – his team maxed him out.
“You look back at the playoffs, and there’s no better place to play in the NHL right now,” said Johansen, who sadly only saw two rounds of them before a freak injury cut his postseason short. The Predators lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final with Johansen out of the lineup.
Like we said: It’s good to be wanted and respected. That’s how David Poile likely feels about his team, after yet another part of the core signed on the dotted line.
The only general manager in franchise history has experienced, in the past, players rejecting the chance to play with the Predators. I can still remember the palpable frustration from Poile with Jason Spezza put the kibosh on a trade that would have given Nashville their coveted top center, only to later approve one to Dallas.
My, have times changed, and not just with Johansen’s contract. The Predators now have RyJo, 24, until 2025 ($8M cap hit); Forsberg, 22, until 2022 ($6M); Arvidsson, 22, until 2024 ($4.25M); P.K. Subban, 28, until 2022 ($9M); Roman Josi, 27, until 2020 ($4M) and Mattias Ekholm, 27, until 2022 ($3.75M).
“We have our core signed up for a whole lotta years,” said Poile. “I thought it was in my best interest, and our team’s best interest, to get those players locked up for a long time.”
No kidding. Were it not for the presence of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference, would the Predators be the best bet to win a Stanley Cup before 2020? Sure, the goaltending situation will have to be addressed at some point, as Pekka Rinne turns 35 this season. But Poile has his entire top line and his three best defensemen locked up for the next three seasons at a minimum. That’s incredible stability. That’s the groundwork that dynasties are built on, such as they are in the salary cap era.
Two teams have won three Stanley Cups in that era: The Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks. Both have shown the path to victory when you have a heavy investment in a handful of players: Exceptional player development and drafting, combined with shrewd acquisitions of veteran talent.
In players like Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, Pontus Aberg and Frederick Gaudreau, Poile has some of that first ingredient. In a guy like Scott Hartnell – 35 years old, a buy-out victim making $1 million next season – he might have the other.
(Hartnell, of course, played with Johansen in Columbus, leading Poile to joke about his $8 million-a-year center: “We might have to double-shift him.”)
The Predators have nearly the entire band back together for next season, have handed out significant contracts to Johansen and Arvidsson, and are still $5.4 million under the cap. There are few teams in this League right now who wouldn’t want that situation, and you’d be hard pressed to find a general manager in this League that don’t respect the job Poile’s done and the support he’s received from ownership.
That said: It’s good to be wanted and respected. But it’s better to have all of this maneuvering result in a championship. Or two.
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