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Underestimate Tyler Johnson at your own risk

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His two-goal performance in Game Three shows he's not done yet.

2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

He’s not what he used to be.

To be frank, he’s probably not worth the $5 million AAV contract he signed in 2017, which won’t expire until 2024.

But here Tyler Johnson is anyway, scoring meaningful goals in another Stanley Cup Final, the third of his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored two goals in a decisive 6-3 victory in Game 3 at the Bell Centre, twice quieting a raucous Montreal crowd that made many rightfully question whether it was really only 3,500 fans in attendance.

The absence of Alex Killorn in the Lightning lineup provided the opportunity, and Johnson seized it. While he didn’t quite click on the right wing of the second line, Cooper moved him back to center the 4th partway through Game 3 with Mathieu Joseph and Pat Maroon flanking him, and he notched both tallies from that position. It’s a testament to the depth of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, and makes you wonder what some other GMs were thinking when he was on waivers earlier this season — twice.

Famously, (perhaps infamously), Lightning GM Julien Brisebois did figure out the cap problem. Moving Johnson was Plan A, but it wasn’t the only option, and now a guy any team in the league could have had for free is scoring goals for the Lightning in the Final. It makes you wonder if one or two (or more) organizations that could have very easily fit Johnson under their cap and had him contribute as a 3rd or 4th line player, opted not to do so because they didn’t want to relieve Tampa Bay’s cap pressure, even if he would have made their team better and would have cost exactly zero assets.

There is a very real possibility — perhaps even a certainty — that this is the last we see of Tyler Johnson in a Tampa Bay Lightning sweater. In fact, if the Bolts do manage to finish things off in Game 4 and sweep the Montreal Canadiens out of the Final, we might have already heard “Johnny B. Goode” for the last time at Amalie Arena. Cap casualties for Cup-winning teams are not uncommon, and whether it’s by trade or the expansion draft coming later this month (or some combination of the two), Lightning fans should savor what could be the final days of a great career with Tampa Bay; head coach Jon Cooper even mentioned in the post-game presser that he is the only professional hockey coach Tyler Johnson has ever played for.

He’s not what he used to be.

But he can still play. Getting underestimated and undervalued along the way? Well, that’s nothing new.