Let’s say it’s June 30, 2018. Tomorrow marks a significant day regarding the near future of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
- July 1 is the day that Nikita Kucherov can sign his eight-year contract extension for X amount of dollars.
- July 1 is the day that Brayden Point can sign the first contract extension of his brief NHL career.
- July 1 is also the day that Tyler Johnson’s full no-trade clause kicks in for the next three seasons.
Why is that significant? It might result in a few cap casualties for the Lightning. With that said, let’s examine the case for and against trading the diminutive forward.
First, let’s start with the case for trading Tyler Johnson before his full NTC kicks in on July 1.
Case for trading Tyler Johnson
Reason #1: Trading Tyler Johnson would clear a $5 million cap hit from the books for the next six seasons.
The most obvious reason behind trading Johnson would be the $5 million in cap relief that shedding his contract would provide. With the gargantuan contracts of Stamkos and Hedman, as well as the future large deals for Kucherov and Vasilevskiy, Yzerman can ill-afford to continue handing out lucrative deals such as those contracts of Callahan, Johnson, and Killorn.
Reason #2: Trading Tyler Johnson gives Yzerman more flexibility to add more pieces either via trade or free agency.
Although the salary cap is expected to increase by at least $3 million next season, that does not mean the team should be top-heavy in terms of its contracts for forwards. $5 million can be spent elsewhere for the line-up—especially on a veteran winger on a cheap, short-term deal. Having cap flexibility is never a bad thing, and you don’t have to spend up to the limit.
Reason #3: Trading Tyler Johnson allows the youth to prove their worth in the NHL.
With the insane amount of center prospects in the system, I, like many others, was skeptical of the long-term deal that Yzerman signed Johnson to this past offseason. The pipeline is brimming with a bevy of young centers, not to mention the two bonafide top-six centers of Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point.
The organization boasts one of the deepest prospect pools at center in the NHL, with the likes of Anthony Cirelli, Brett Howden, Alexey Lipanov, and Mitchell Stephens, just to name a few. With Point as the second-line center, there is no need to pay $5 million to a natural center who would be relegated to third line duties.
Cirelli looks like he could make a push for a call-up any second now, so there is a strong chance to believe that he will push for a roster spot out of camp next September. Brett Howden, too, might get a long look at next year’s training camp. With that said, why block their path to the NHL?
Case against trading Tyler Johnson
Reason #1: Trading Tyler Johnson would “deplete” the depth the organization has at center.
I put deplete in quotes because, as previously mentioned, the Lightning depth at center is immense. Some clubs would kill for that depth, and the Lightning are fortunate to have such a great scouting staff.
Trading Johnson would eliminate a solid option at center for the Lightning should an injury to Stamkos or Point occur. Sans Johnson due to a trade and Stamkos or Point due to a injury would thrust one of the young prospects into the lineup possibly a bit prematurely or force Yzerman to make a deal to acquire a top-six center should one of the aforementioned players be sidelined for a significant amount of time.
Reason #2: Trading Tyler Johnson would remove one key playoff performer from the roster.
We are all very familiar with Tyler Johnson’s knack for clutch scoring in the playoffs. During the run to the Stanley Cup Final, in 26 games, Johnson put up 13 goals and 10 assists, even after suffering a broken wrist early in the Final. The following postseason, he put up 7 goals and 10 assists in 17 games.
There is no denying his ability to come through at the most opportune times, and trading away such a valuable asset come playoff time could come back to haunt the Lightning.
Verdict: Tyler Johnson will likely NOT be traded before July 1, 2018.
Yzerman didn’t sign him to a massive long-term deal just to trade him one year later. However, Yzerman might not have expected the breakout performance that we have seen from Brayden Point thus far this season.
I’d bet good money that Tyler Johnson remains a member of the Lightning for the next handful of years. However, towards the tail end of his deal, when his modified no-trade clause kicks in on June 15, 2021, I believe that he will be dealt to one of the 20 teams on his yes-trade list.
Yzerman, per usual, will have to weigh all of his options, as Kucherov and Point will be due massive raises after the 2018-19 season, as will Vasilevskiy and Sergachev after the 2019-20 season.
Luckily, my name is not Steve Yzerman, and I do not have to make some of the aforementioned difficult decisions, but if I were playing fantasy GM, I would heavily explore the interest in Tyler Johnson as a solid number 2 center on the trade market. What would you do? Drop a comment below.