Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Nashville Predators (not a game day look)

Currently, the Columbus Blue Jackets are an astounding 22-5-4. They started the season 0-2, and 2-3-1. This means that in their past twenty-five games, they are 20-2-3. Rather remarkable for a non-playoff team from last season. A team that started the 2015-16 season with eight consecutive losses (7 under Todd Richards, who was then replaced by John Tortorella,) en route to a 34-40-8 season, good for last place in the Metropolitan Division, and 8 points away from New Jersey, the 7th place finisher in the Metro.

On January 6, 2016 Jarmo Kekalainen and David Poile swung the big deal of the NHL season, swapping a “#1 center” that the Predators claimed to never having had in 18 seasons, for a 21 year old defenseman in his 3rd NHL season, trapped on the 3rd pairing with Nashville, due to incredible defensive depth on the Preds roster.

At the time of the trade, Columbus had a record of 15-23-3 (33 points) and with Jones on the blueline, the team finished 19-17-5 (43 points.) Add the 2016-17 record into their post-Johansen totals, and the team has played 72 games, and has a record of 41-22-9 (91 points) In 82 games last season, the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins made the playoffs with 93 points. It’s safe to say that in the next 10 games, the Jackets, currently on an ELEVEN game winning streak, should win a game or two, and would have qualified for the post season last year based on these numbers. Of course, this year they appear to be a post-season lock, as they are currently number ONE in the 30 team NHL at this point in time. Both Columbus and Chicago have 48 points, but Columbus has FOUR games in hand. With those games in hand, Columbus still has the fourth most goals scored in the league, and have given up the second least goals, trailing Minnesota by just 2 with a game in hand.

One might say that if only addition by subtraction, Kekalainen made a great trade for the Jackets. The fact that Jones is part of their number one pairing on the blue line, is nothing but bonus for Columbus right now. Jones is projecting to score at a pace of 16 goals, 22 assists for 38 points. His three season totals have been 6-19-25 in his rookie year, 8-19-27 in his sophomore season and a combined 3-28-31 last year. Needless to say he’s at 5-7-12 in 24 games (he missed 7 games due to injury earlier in the season) and is paired with rookie sensation Zach Werenski, who has been the cream of the freshman class on the blue line this season. Werenski is currently projected to score at a 16-41-57point pace, averaging over 21 and a half minutes per game (Jones is close to 24 minutes per game, as he contributes on the penalty kill, as well as the power play.)

So, Columbus disposes of their top pivot before he becomes a 6 million dollar man, with a contract negotiation due at the end of this season, and finds it doesn’t miss him in the least. After back-to-back seasons of 33-30-63 and 26-45-71, Johansen slumped to 14-46-60 last year (repeat: goal totals decline from 33 to 26 to 14 as his contract goes from three million to six million in 2016-17) in his split season between Columbus and Nashville. Johansen is currently on pace for a season that looks like a small bounceback in goals (18) but a slight drop in assists (41) for 59 points, which would be pretty close to equaling his disappointing 2015-16 season. Number One center numbers? Marginal at best. Given the ice time and wingers he has in Nashville, special teams alone should give him a boost, but the Predators power play, which was #1 in the league in October, coincidentally when Johansen was not producing at all, has been dismal of late, dropping from first to twelfth in the league, and hitting just three times in the last thirty-seven power play attempts since late-November (13 games.) Remarkably, Ryan has maintained his LAST PLACE standing of NHL centers in the face-off dot during the Preds man advantage, winning a paltry 33% (9 of 27) of his draws on the power play. In fact, Coach Laviolette must read these stats, as he hasn’t allowed Johansen to take a draw on the man advantage for the better part of the last month. Yielding to both Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro. Of course, with Nashville’s power play in the toilet, I guess Johansen’s abilities in the faceoff circle are the least of the team’s worries (For the record, Fisher has actually won 61 of 91 power play draws. Ribeiro has won 21 of 56.)

We’ve looked closely at the remarkable rise of the Columbus Blue Jackets as a team both this season, and since the Jones/Johansen trade, so let’s check Nashville’s numbers. This season finds the team currently out of the playoff picture, with a record of 15-13-5 (35 points.) Last season the Predators did make the playoffs (as fans hardly noticed the loss of Jones on the blueline since they had Josi/Weber, and Ellis/Ekholm eating the majority of the minutes — which allowed Poile to swing this deal without incurring the wrath of the fan base, who amusingly never really bought into Jones, which was bizarre and unfathomable, because despite his occasional gaffes, he was 18, 19, 20 years old, and was caught in a learning curve, especially during periods when Shea Weber missed time due to injury. People who watched and could properly assess talent were raving around the upside Jones showed. He’ll be a top flight rearguard for the next decade plus.

The Preds have played 33 games this season (15-13-5) and last season at the same juncture were 16-11-6, so just 3 points ahead of their current pace. In the following seven games prior to the trade, the team went 3-3-1, so their record stood at 19-14-7 (45 points) and the swap was made. The team went on a four game road trip, and came back with just a single point (getting an overtime loss in Winnipeg to close out the trip.) Just two and a half minutes into his first game with Nashville, Johansen scored a power play goal, and later in the game added an even strength assist. In fact, in his first seven games as a Predator, Johansen netted 3 goals, added 6 assists in five of those contests. He followed that with one assist in four games, then added a goal and 4 assists in the next three. But from February 12th through March 3rd, Johansen added just two assists in eleven contests, and I began to notice his lack of visibility in these games. Amazingly from February 22nd in Montreal, through March 8th the Preds played eight games, going 7-0-1, accruing 15 of 16 points, and your number one center, Johansen, a single goal and two assists. He finished the regular season with 3 goals and 12 assists over the last 13 games, and the team did make the post season, so the fans were oblivious to the little invisible man streak that snuck its way into the schedule in February/March.

After acquiring Johansen, the team went 22-13-7 (51 points in 42 games) and add in this season’s 15-13-5, and in 75 games, the Predators are 37-26-12 (86 points) Nashville needed 96 points to grab a playoff spot last year. With 86 points in 75 games, the Johansen Preds would need to win 5 of their final 7 games to achieve that number. While not impossible, based on the team’s “win two, lose two, win one, lose two, win two, lose three” type of season, this is beyond calling the team a “bubble team.”

We can debate the Weber/Subban deal, and talk about how the team has gone 2-1-1 without P.K. in the lineup (and his absence was quite noticeable last night against Los Angeles), but it’s closing in on 3AM and I’d like to get some sleep now.

 

 

 

What to do, David Poile… what to do (with Ryan Johansen.)

FROM ADAM VINGAN’S MAILBAG IN MONDAY’S TENNESSEAN:

How is David Poile going to justify paying Ryan Johansen $6 million a year (or more) based on what he brings to the table compared to true No. 1 centers? — Marc Nathan (@mdnathan)

The structure of Johansen’s current contract — a three-year, $12 million deal signed in October 2014 — is advantageous to the pending restricted free agent. His salary this season is $6 million (up from $3 million in each of the first two years), which means the Predators have to extend a qualifying offer worth $6 million in order to maintain his rights. It also means that Johansen should make more than that in annual salary in his next contract.
That begs this question — has Johansen proved to be potentially worth, for argument’s sake, $7 million per year?
He scored a career-high 71 points two seasons ago, had 34 points in 42 games after being traded to the Predators last season (a 66-point pace over 82 games) and has a team-leading 18 points this season. NHL centers currently making a salary around $7 million include Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom, Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter and San Jose’s Joe Thornton. Johansen might not be in that same class yet.
The Predators, however, might not have much choice but to pay Johansen that much. As of now, they have no other options to replace him adequately, and acquiring him from the Blue Jackets cost them defenseman Seth Jones, which would be a steep price for one full season.
Nashville never has had a No. 1 center like Johansen, who at 24 still hasn’t entered his prime. The Predators’ lack of young center depth will work in Johansen’s favor at the negotiating table.

via Predators mailbag: Why can’t Nashville win on the road?

First, I want to thank Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) for his taking my question via Twitter, and delivering a solid answer based on what the fans need to know.
So, I submit my headline for the following discussion on said subject.

POILE SET TO BE HAMSTRUNG IN JOHANSEN NEGOTIATIONS

or, perhaps…

JOHANSEN SET TO BE MOST OVERPAID PLAYER IN THE NHL

or, yet again…

PREDATORS BETTER PRAY “#1 CENTER” CAN RISE ABOVE LAZY FACTOR AND EARN DOUGH HE’S OBVIOUSLY GONNA GET DESPITE HIS MOTIVATION LEVEL BEING CRAP ON A LEVEL OF CRAP TO BETTER THAN CRAP.

Yeah, you guessed it. I think the Predators are going to be feasting on a $*** sandwich as Ryan Johansen plays out his $6 million dollar season and prepares to enter the next phase of his NHL career. Remember that this is a guy who was pissed off at Columbus, threw a tantrum and held out after his breakout 2013-14 campaign, when the then 21 year old netted 33 goals, and added 30 helpers in a regular season that saw Columbus make the playoffs, and exit in six games in round one. With his jackpot season, Johansen was able to parlay his efforts into a contract that paid him 3M in 14-15, 3M in 15-16, and 6M this season. In season one of that deal we saw mixed results. Missing training camp may or may not have helped, but with the ink still drying, Johansen was on the ice on opening night. The team itself took a step back. Johansen slipped a bit in goals, with 26, but saw his assists increase by 50%, garnering 45 helpers. His +/- took a hit, from +3 to -6, and the team missed the post season. It should also be noted that he was usurped as the top scorer on the Jackets, as his left-winger, Nick Foligno notched 31 goals, 42 assists and beat him to the team’s scoring title by a couple points. Nick was a +16, by the way. Fresh off the disappointment of no playoffs, the Blue Jackets were on the short leash with management, and the Todd Richards coached squad started the season with seven consecutive regulation losses, and the call was put in for John Tortorella. As for Johansen, he lasted 38 games, seeing his goal totals drop to 6 in the almost half season, and with 20 assists was on pace for what would have to be considered a sub-par season from a points perspective. Players such as Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad and Cam Atkinson supplied the goals, and Johansen was shipped to Nashville for 3rd year stud defenseman Seth Jones. Jones showed signs of superstardom during his tenure with the Predators, having been drafted fourth overall in 2013 (Johansen was picked in that exact spot in 2010.)

Johansen played 42 games for the Predators in the regular season, and did not show signs of being anywhere close to a 30 goal scorer, notching 8 in 42 games for his new team. He did however add 26 assists and was a reasonable +10 as the Preds went on to two rounds of playoff hockey, culminating in the heartbreaking seventh game loss in San Jose during the second round. Johansen netted 4-4-8 in the 14 playoff games. Overall, coming off seasons of 63 and 71 points, Johansen’s two team composite line read 14-46-60 which are adequate numbers, for offensive talent, but a dropoff, nonetheless, from his prior campaigns, and now he doubles his salary and becomes the Predators 6M dollar number-one center that “the team has never had.”

I cleaned the slate as to how I felt about this guy’s play, and on opening night, Johansen garnered three assists and was deemed the team’s number one star in a solid 3-2 defeat of chief rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. What followed however was awfully hard to ignore. A goalless October, and just one power play assist in the following seven games. Going into November with just the four power play points in eight contests, Johansen began November with a goal and an assist in a 5-1 victory over the Avalanche. While the goal was with the man advantage, the assist was his first even strength point in nine games. This was followed with four more pointless games, and then a three-game point scoring streak (all three, assists, as the Preds scored 12 goals in that stretch.) This was followed by two more goose-eggs, so going into play on November 23rd, Johansen boasted one goal, eight assists over the team’s first eighteen games. Four even strength points in eighteen games are not the kind of numbers team’s first line centers can boast proudly. The team won three of the next four to end November on a happy note. Goaltender Pekka Rinne was voted the NHL Player of the Month. Johansen added four goals and three assists in those Predator victories (the team was shut-out 3-0 in Winnipeg) and suddenly the numbers started to look almost respectable. Fans certainly thought the guy was pulling his weight, but naggingly I kept looking at long stretches of invisibility, and as a season seat holder, I got a pretty good chance to watch him float aimlessly shift after shift. Passing could be considered erratic at best, though occasionally  very strong. Receiving passes, and fighting battles for loose pucks was evidently NOT a strong suit, as two Predator losses could be directly related to pucks bouncing off Johansen’s skate to opposing players who converted them into game winning goals.

So far the Preds are 1-3-1 in December, and in those five games have scored 13 goals. Johansen can lay claim to just 2 assists in that period, and now sits at 27 games played with 5 goals, 13 assists (18 points) and removing power play points, this top line center has just 2 goals and 7 assists at even strength. I could name players in the NHL who have done far more with and for far less to this point in the season, and I must go back to my original point. David Poile is hamstrung, and is in the unenviable position of having to sign Johansen to a long term contract, or run the risk of being the GM who traded Seth Jones (who has since signed a long term extension with the suddenly surging Columbus Blue Jackets) for a year’s worth of disappointment in Ryan Johansen.

Fans still love this guy, and I’m not sure what they are basing their decision on, because statistically, he is a weak link in the Preds top 6. He takes a majority of the team faceoffs and is sitting at just 51.5% (including a LEAGUE WORST 33% on the power play.) He is the heaviest forward on the Preds roster, and only fourth-liner Austin Watson at 6’4 is taller (Johansen stands 6’3, 215) yet he ranks seventh among the team’s forwards in hits, and  has blocked just nine shots within the year.

Poile will pay and the fan base will cheer, but at this point he is on pace for just 15 goals and 39 assists (55 points) unless he starts doing more number one-center like things. Right now, the team has a gaggle of forwards who, for the past few seasons, have carved out careers that have frustratingly allowed them to disappear for long stretches of time (see: Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and even James Neal,) but based on most team’s top pivot, the Preds can ill afford to allow a guy like Johansen fade into the scenery as he has for long stretches since his being acquired. The immediate call to action is now for Ryan Johansen. He must start to use his body more to win battles, and he must show up on the scoresheet at even strength. I don’t know where Lavy and Poile stand on this, and if they even believe that this guy is coming close to living up to the potential he displayed as a 21-year-old Columbus Blue Jacket, but we are fairly certain Seth Jones is going to be a mainstay CBJ’s top defensive unit (with incredible rookie Zach Werenski) for many years to come, and we don’t want to be the guy who cried “I told you so,” when talking about winning/losing what was one of the biggest trades of the last decade.

May Ryan Johansen’s best Nashville days lie ahead of him, and may he be worth the money that David Poile is most certainly going to have to throw at him in an effort to save face for what has so far been a very luke warm return for a tremendous young defenseman, in Jones.

 

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