Now that everyone has had a little bit of time to breathe and let the trade that sent center Ryan Johansen to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Seth Jones, it’s time to examine the ramifications of the deal and what needs to happen now.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s blockbuster:
1. Johansen Really Needed a Change of Scenery
Rumors about a Johansen trade out of Columbus had been swirling really ever since his contract dispute with the team two years ago, but really picked up once John Tortorella became head coach of the Blue Jackets this season. In a conference call with the media Wednesday night, Johansen said he tried to focus on playing good hockey for the Blue Jackets, but couldn’t stay away from the rumors.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie, I obviously read a lot of stuff and I got a lot of texts from friends and family, asking a bunch of questions,” he said. “With social media today, it’s hard not to know about all that stuff.”
Johansen also acknowledged that his relationship with Tortorella was not perfect.
“Me and coach [Tortorella] got along fine,” he said. “We definitely had a couple disagreements on things, but that’s part of the game, and I think he was looking out for my best interests. I’m not sure what happened behind closed doors with him, but it’s nothing I should worry about.”
With Tortorella and trade rumors in the past, Johansen should have a clean slate in Nashville and a clear head to play the best he can in Nashville.
2. The Predators Still Have A League-Best Defensive Unit
Despite letting go of a touted defenseman like Jones, the Predators are not bereft of defensive talent. They acquired their coveted top-line center while maintaining their top pairing defensemen as well as most of their depth. Shea Weber and Roman Josi will continue to lead from the front, while Barret Jackman will provide a veteran presence. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis will round out the unit. The hole on the second line left by Jones will likely be filled by Anthony Bitetto, Peter Granberg or Victor Bartley. Plus, there are some very good defenseman currently making their way down the pipeline, like Jack Dougherty and Jonathan Diaby. Either way, Jones’ presence will be missed, but certainly will not decimate a very deep defensive unit.
3. The Pipeline Hasn’t Sprung A Leak
Another incredible part of this deal is that the Predators’ prospect pipeline remains perfectly intact. The Blue Jackets didn’t take coveted young players like Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Juuse Saros, Yakov Trenin, Frederick Gaudreau, Max Gortz, Jimmy Vesey, Justin Kirkland, or Thomas Novak. There was a great concern that the Predators would have to mortgage some of their future to acquire that top-line center. It turns out they didn’t, and perhaps someday, Johansen will be backed up by a second-line center in Fiala, who would be joined on the wings by Kamenev and Vesey.
4. Johansen Should Boost Filip Forsberg
There’s a strong chance Johansen slots in with the top unit, James Neal and Forsberg. If that does indeed happen, then Forsberg should see his numbers go up. Neal is already having himself a solid season, but Forsberg has found himself in a little bit of a sophomore slump. He has 26 points through 40 games, on pace to finish well short of the 63 he had last season. With a young playmaker centering him, he could be able to find that scoring touch he had last season. The combined offensive skill of those three standouts could compete with most top lines in the NHL.
5. The Time for Excuses is Over
In 2007, the excuse was the old age of top scorers like Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg. In 2012, the excuse was the underperforming deadline pickups like Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov. In 2013, the excuse was a coach that promoted a defensive-first style. In 2015, with an offensively-inclined coach in Peter Laviolette, the excuse was a lack of a top-level center. In 2016, the Predators have the right coach, top-level, young scoring talent abound, some forward depth, a lockdown defensive corps and a world-class goaltender. There are no more excuses. The last variable in the Stanley Cup contender formula has been plugged.
With Johansen in the lineup, excuses don’t matter anymore.
It’s time to start winning.