Mike Johnson’s first thought on the Ryan Johansen-Seth Jones trade wasn’t: ‘Who won?’
“It was shock,” the Rogers Sportsnet analyst said. “It just doesn’t happen anymore with players that young and that good where it’s not really based on a contract dispute.
“So many (general) managers are scared to pull the trigger on something this big because of that what-if factor. What happens if Jones becomes a Norris Trophy winner? What happens if Johansen scores a ton of points? You put yourself out there for criticism down the road when you trade players like this so I applaud them for being willing to swing for the fences.”
Columbus and Nashville, two of the league’s three most recent expansion franchises, pulled off what is easily the biggest trade of the season on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets sent Johansen, a No. 1 center, to the Predators for Jones, a defenseman who was Nashville’s first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2014 and is expected to be a top-pairing player.
So who won the trade? We won’t know for certain until a few years have passed and Jones has been allowed to mature into his new role, but in the short term, Johnson and NBC analyst Ed Olczyk give the edge to the Predators.
“The key is Johansen is a little bit farther along and proven in what he is than Seth Jones,” Olczyk said. “Right now, Nashville got the better player, it was certainly a big need and they were dealing from strength.”
Nashville had what was arguably the deepest blue line in the NHL with Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis forming a strong top four.
“When you have those guys, it’s a much easier trade for them to make than it was for Columbus,” Olczyk said. “I don’t know if this makes them a top Cup contender, but when you look at what (GM) David Poile and (assistant GM) Paul Fenton have been able to do there, they’ve been able to draft good defensemen and goalies but they haven’t been able to get anywhere near those type of guys when drafting forwards. Getting a guy that can get you 70 points via trade means you have upgraded your team tremendously.”
Johnson said the move will also have a positive trickle-down effect on the rest of Nashville’s centers.
“How long have they needed this type of player in Columbus?” Johnson said. “Mike Ribeiro is not a No. 1 center and Mike Fisher is probably not a No. 2 center, but when you slide those guys down to two and three, and then have Paul Gaustad as your fourth-line center it looks a lot better.”
It is still perplexing to Johnson and Olczyk that the Blue Jackets were so eager to trade Johansen, who had a goal and an assist in his Predators debut Friday in Denver.
“You hope it wasn’t due to past contract negotiations because to me, that’s incredibly short-sighted,” Johnson said. “It’s just business and to allow that to linger on either side is dumb.”
“There was some ill will for sure and you saw the way he was being used by Tortorella,” Olczyk added, “but it’s tough to find guys who can put up 70 points, or even 55 to 60. You’re really banking on guys there being able to fill that void by committee.”
For Columbus, the trade signals a greater focus on rebuilding for a few years down the line. Nashville is a different story. With key players like Weber (30) and goalie Pekka Rinne (33) already having passed the 30-year-old threshold, Nashville may have a shorter window in mind, although Olczyk isn’t ready to proclaim the Predators a Cup favorite.
“To me, it’s still L.A., Dallas and Chicago in the West,” he said. “A bunch of other teams are right there. St. Louis is close and now Nashville and Anaheim can be dangerous if they find their way in.
“In a roundabout way, this puts more pressure on Pekka Rinne. He’s not the same goalie he was before he got hurt and came back. (Chicago’s) Scott Darling and Corey Crawford outplayed him in the playoffs last year and there aren’t a lot of people in the game that think Crawford is as good as Rinne, although I would beg to differ.
“Nashville’s goaltending has been average at best in the playoffs and you can’t have that. He’s going to be under some big-time pressure to perform after this trade.”
Johansen had a goal and an assist in his debut on Friday night, while Seth Jones was held off the scoresheet in 22:31 of ice time on Columbus’ top defensive pair.
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