The Nashville Predators are locked and loaded. Or rather, we knew they were loaded when they skated their way to the Stanley Cup final, but now they are locked up, thanks to the new eight-year, $64 million deal given to top center Ryan Johansen.
Johansen, who unfortunately missed the final due to emergency leg surgery in the previous series against Anaheim, nonetheless played a huge role in getting the Preds deep into the post-season. After tying for the team lead in regular-season scoring with linemate Viktor Arvidsson, ‘Joey’ put up nearly a point per game in the playoffs while facing off against the likes of Jonathan Toews, Paul Stastny and arch-enemy Ryan Kesler.
And he is only 25 years old.
That’s the best thing about this Predators squad; many of the team’s stars are just entering their primes, yet GM David Poile has everyone under contract now for at least a couple more years. In fact, the only pact that may become cumbersome in the near future is that of netminder Pekka Rinne, if the veteran and franchise legend degrades in effectiveness (his regular season was pedestrian, but he had some big playoff performances).
Even then, Rinne’s $7 million cap hit comes off the books in the summer of 2019 – right when rising star defenseman Ryan Ellis will need a long-term contract extension.
But let’s get back to Johansen, because he really is an essential part of this whole thing. While Nashville is known for its stellar defense corps, the Predators really could have used ‘Joey’ in the final against Pittsburgh. Would it ultimately have mattered to have him squaring off against Sidney Crosby, instead of Mike Fisher or Colin Wilson? Well, it would have helped – but maybe the Predators end up losing in seven instead of six. I mean, Sid was in a zone.
Now, if Nashville should climb the mountain again next season, perhaps things are different. The Johansen-Arvidsson-Filip Forsberg line gets another year of chemistry together and I would expect even better point totals from the trio, which was already very effective. Plus, you get a healthy Kevin Fiala, making the forward corps a lot more tricky to handle.
Is Johansen worth $8 million a year, for the maximum eight seasons? Short answer, yes. Not only is he an elite playmaker with great size, but he’s also a dominant possession driver and a popular guy in the room (the Predators have several great captain options if and when Fisher leaves town officially, and I have to assume Johansen is one of them).
And, as I have opined on numerous occasions, it’s very hard to find true No. 1 centers. Nashville only got Johansen by trading one of the brightest young blueliners in the game, Seth Jones, to Columbus. While $8 million is a big cap hit, Johansen will still be cheaper than Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux or Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, so it’s worth keeping these things in perspective.
Assuming Johansen fully recovers from his freak leg ailment, the Predators won’t have to scrape their way into the post-season this time around. Do they have all the elements to win a championship? That’s a matter of debate. But Johansen’s new long-term deal ensures that the squad will have a shot at Stanley for years to come.
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