So, about that false flag deal from earlier…
The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets completed the “big deal” that had been rumoured at the start of the day. Big might even be an understatement, as 23-year-old centre Ryan Johansen and 21-year-old defenceman Seth Jones change cities, despite neither being far removed from being considered franchise cornerstones.
Johansen’s departure is probably the least surprising of the two. The Vancouver native has spent over a year in a power struggle with his now-former team, starting with a drawn-out contract negotiation that lasted until three days before opening night in 2014/15. At that point, he signed his present 3-year deal, which sees him earn an average of $4 million per season.
After that, Johansen went on a tear, scoring 26 goals and adding 45 assists for a career-high 71 points. The total ranked second in team scoring and sixteenth league wide, marking the best season of his career. Things took a sharp turn once John Tortorella took over the reins in Columbus, as he slashed Johansen’s minutes as early as the third period of his first game behind the bench, and made him a healthy scratch after over two years of not missing a game.
In Johansen, the Predators get immediate help down the middle. Prior to tonight, the team’s top three pivots were Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher, and Paul Gaustad; all decent names in their primes, but only Ribeiro was an offensive catalyst in his day, and in the case of all three, their days are by and large behind them. Johansen is a slightly above the curve possession player, a well above average even-strength point producer, and a powerplay threat. It’s not yet known whether the Predators will pair him up with Filip Forsberg or James Neal, but regardless of who is new triggerman is, expect an uptick from them in the near future.
One concern with Johansen might be his contract. While he is still an RFA upon its expiry next season, the back-ended nature of the deal sets him up to accept a big $6 million qualifying offer, should he choose to. This gives him the option of cashing out for a year if he doesn’t live up to the hype, or if he does, it gives him an express path to Unrestricted Free Agency after 2017/18.
Heading the other way is Seth Jones. While he isn’t an immediate first line centre, he certainly is no slouch. In fact, there are many people suggesting that the Predators should have offered up superstar-by-name Shea Weber instead of Jones if they didn’t already attempt and fail to do so. While Weber has an eternity (ten years) remaining on his deal and appears to be becoming less dependable from a defensive standpoint with each given year, Jones, in just his third NHL season has become a top-tier shot suppressor on a team that’s already spectacularly good defensively.
It’s certainly a risk for the Predators if it were their decision to trade Jones. Like Johansen a few years prior, Jones was drafted 4th overall by his franchise and was expected to become their top defender and public face in the future. He’s likely to be a re-occurring presence on the US national team and received Calder Trophy votes two years ago.
One could argue that, like Johansen becomes Nashville’s top centre, Jones will become Columbus’ top defenceman. Truthfully, there’s not a ton in the core outside of 2012 second overall pick Ryan Murray, who has struggled this year. If both of them were to hit their potential, they could be one of the league’s most formidable defensive pairings, though there are plenty of “ifs” to travel through before they hit that stage.
If nothing else, the Blue Jackets gain some security in their asset with the deal. While Johansen was likely content with finding the easiest way out of town moving forward, Jones is a restricted free agent this year. Columbus can lock him up to a deal with a term length that puts them in control, which is something the could have possibly lost with the player they’ve shipped out.
While many have been quick to anoint the Predators as the winners of this deal, there’s value to be seen from both sites. While it’s likely that Johansen is the more impactful player in the long run, the Blue Jackets were in a position of weakness given his rocky history with the team and Tortorella’s indifference to using a player who many believed would be pivotal in his lineup. The fact that they managed to get a young player as good as Jones without his own baggage attached is impressive. Meanwhile, the Predators, who dealt from a position of strength to fix a position of weakness, just got a lot scarier.