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Tyler Johnson ready to put business behind and get down to hockey

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by Erik Erlendsson | @Erik_Erlendsson | Like us on Facebook
January 5, 2021


BRANDON – From nearly the moment Tyler Johnson stepped off his vessel following the Tampa Bay Lightning boat parade to celebrate a Stanley Cup championship, it felt like he was taking a step toward landing with another team.

The Lightning were heading toward a cap crunch before whatever the 2021 season would end up looking like. With a salary cap flat at $81.5 million, Tampa Bay was going to have to move out at least one player (and probably more) to another team to alleviate the situation.

At the top of that list was Johnson, who endured a tumultuous offseason with trade speculation and waiver wire woes. At the end of the day, he landed exactly where he always wanted to be – in training camp with the Lightning looking to defend a Stanley Cup title.

Johnson is ready to simply focus on the task at hand and not have to think about the business side of the game – at least for the time being.

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When Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois looked down his roster for areas salary cap could be trimmed, Johnson landed at the top of the list. The former Calder Trophy finalist as rookie of the year in 2014 had four more years left on a seven-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5 million per year.

And before the end of the season, and before the pandemic, teams has reached out to BriseBois about Johnson, knowing the cap crunch the Lightning were facing, so BriseBois had a sense of interest from around the league regarding Johnson.

“I had a number of teams call me with regards to interest in Tyler Johnson, not that I was shopping him by any stretch,” BriseBois said. “I was telling everyone the same thing that I know after the season I’m going to have to unload some payroll, some contracts and I don’t know yet who I’m going to move and that was consistent message I conveyed to every GM that called me at the time.”

While the NHL was on pause, BriseBois said teams were still showing interest with three teams in particular staying in touch. But he said that was before the full scale of the financial damage the pandemic was going to inflict on the league and individual teams.

So when October came around and BriseBois needed to flip his full attention to getting ready for the 2020-21 season – even without an idea of when it might start – Johnson was the first player he tried to make a move with to find a taker. But of those three teams that had interest earlier in the year, he said two of those teams simply couldn’t afford the contract any more and the third had limited salary cap space and an attempt at bringing in a third team to work out a three-way trade to cut the cap hit down but it didn’t work out.

On the opening day of free agency, Johnson was placed on waivers to see if a team would be willing to take Johnson without giving up assets, but he went unclaimed and the Lightning looked to be in a cap quandary.

That was until Nikita Kucherov needed to undergo hip surgery that would keep him out for the regular season and allow Tampa Bay to be cap compliant without having to move anybody out.

“If Tyler Johnson is on my team to start the year, I think that’s a good thing because Tyler Johnson’s a good player he’s going to help us win hockey games and ultimately that’s what I wanted to do,” BriseBois said.

So when Tampa Bay reported to camp earlier this week, the familiar No. 9 was on the roster and by Tuesday his importance to the team was made apparent when he was put on the revamped top power play unit sitting in the bumper position in the slot to help fill the void left by Kucherov.

“Johnny can put the puck in the net so we want to try a right-hand player there and see what works out,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

When the Lightning go through their first of two scrimmages on Wednesday night, Johnson figures to also slot in on right wing on the second line with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn, which was a line for good portions of the playoff run, as well.

For Johnson, that’s all he’s concentrating on is what he can do to help the Lightning win games and be in position to try to win another Stanley Cup.

“Yeah, it was a different offseason there were tons of things going on behind the scenes with everything,” Johnson said. “But I’m happy to be a part here. These guys are my family and I’m looking forward to the season.”

The lines of communication between management and Johnson were always open and BriseBois was up front with the situation, which was all based on business and not performance or abilities. So there was no concern about whether what went on during the offseason would have any lingering affects once training camp opened.

“I think he’s been great,” Killorn said. “I’ve been with him for most of the summer and I think it’s a situation where for a lot of us I think a lot of our names were in trade talks. Unfortunately for him his got a little bit messier with waivers and such but I think he realizes that a big part of that was the cap crunch. I know for us as players we all understand how important he is to our team. I think looking right now, where he fits in the line, he’s going to be a big part of this team especially with Kuch out this year. So we are going to need him to play well and I know he will.”

Cooper has coached Johnson for almost his entire pro career dating back to the 2011-12 season with the Norfolk Admirals when the team won a Calder Cup championship. The Lightning coach said he didn’t really have to speak to Johnson heading in to camp, knowing whatever happened – or didn’t happen – during the offseason would have no bearing on the approach to this season.

“Tyler Johnson’s helped this team for as long as I’ve been here and we won a lot of regular season and playoff games because of the work of Tyler Johnson,” Cooper said. “As I said I wasn’t involved in the rumor mills and all the things that were going on but I do know that all the players that are here are glad they’re here, they want to be here.”

And Johnson is happy to still be here and he’s ready to put everything in the rearview mirror.

“There is a lot of stuff that went on behind the scenes or at the end there and things went quick,” Johnson said. “Then obviously with the way that the season was going and stuff as far as not knowing when we would play and stuff I think the league as a whole was just kind of a little bit in chaos mode there. So there’s just a lot that was going on and I don’t think we need to talk about it. It is what it is and we’re here now and looking forward to the season.”

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