Leading up the first day of NHL Free Agency, which opens on July 28, the Chicago Blackhawks have been busy. We all figured they would be because of another disappointing season, but now, they are getting aggressive. After a hectic morning, during which they acquired goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the Hawks ended Tuesday with a late-night trade, adding center Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Brent Seabrook’s contract.
This trade carries a lot of emotions because there is a lot to unpack with it. This could be a steal or could be another roadblock in the navigation of the salary cap. Here’s what you need to know:
Understanding this trade comes from a financial standpoint. During the eve of free agency, the Blackhawks were the team that had the least amount of salary-cap space in the NHL at just over $500,000. The acquisitions of defenseman Seth Jones ($9.5 million AAV) and Fleury ($7 million AAV) added to that total. The way to be creative with cap space is to move contracts around. Although Seabrook retired early, he is still owed over $18 million in the remaining three years of his eight-year contract. Getting that number off the books is huge for them. The trade alone boosted their cap space to about $2.5 million.
As for Johnson, the 30-year-old carries a cap hit of $5 million for the next three seasons.
Johnson has been with the Lightning for his entire nine-year career. He is a back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion and was a solid role player in their bottom-six. His career stats in Tampa are 161 goals, 200 assists, 361 points and a plus-84 rating in 589 games. His career faceoff percentage (FO%) is 49.8%.
Johnson had a down year this season. His 82-game point average is 49 points. This season, he had only 22 points and was a minus-1 with a FO% of 54.8% in 55 games. Granted, he was in a tough spot because he was placed on waivers early in the season and went unclaimed. However, he made his mark in the Stanley Cup playoffs with four goals and three assists with a plus-3 rating in 23 games. The most notable moment came from Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Montreal Canadiens where he scored back-to-back goals to secure a Lightning victory, and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup.
The first impact comes from the 2023 second-round pick that the Blackhawks acquired along with Johnson. Chicago’s farm system does not run deep at the moment, so being able to secure a high draft pick can do wonders for their future. That was an added bonus with the deal.
When it comes to Johnson, he fits a need right away with Chicago. The team has been needing impact centers and he fits that bill. With his FO% being 54% this season, that tops the Blackhawks’ highest FO%, which came from David Kampf at 52%. Johnson can score up to 20 goals a season, which helps the team’s depth immensely. The Blackhawks are going into a year where a lot is unknown with their center group. Between Jonathan Toews’ status being questionable, mixed in with a group of Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome, David Kampf, Philipp Kurashev, Henrik Borgstrom, there are a lot of holes and question-marks. Johnson can give a sense of security that comes with being a veteran of the game. I can also see him as a player that moves up and down the lineup.
On a team like Tampa, whose roster is stacked, he fit best in their bottom-six, but that doesn’t mean he’ll end up there with the Hawks. I can see him filling in wherever he is needed and that versatility will be relied upon as the new centers try to make their mark in the NHL. Moreover, if he does end up in the bottom six, that is an instant upgrade of talent for those lines in of itself.
I think the Blackhawks are far from done this offseason. I don’t see this as an acquisition that they could be using as a side deal. $2.5 million is a nice place to start with cap space, but you have to believe there are more moves to come. Johnson’s hefty $5 million AAV may seem like a turnoff considering the position that the Hawks are in, but it depends on how the team handles it. They may be looking to clear Dylan Strome ($3 million AAV) or Calvin de Haan’s ($4 million AAV) contracts down the road, but either way, they are going to have to do something. If they can continue to clear cap space and add a few extra impact players, they could put themselves in a good position.
If Johnson returns to his form of producing at a 20-goal pace, that will be even sweeter. If he doesn’t, then we can cross that bridge when the time comes. That’s the kind of gamble you make when you trade for a player like that. Overall, I think this is a good trade for Chicago. They got proven talent while clearing the books. Now, let’s see what the rest of the offseason has in store.
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.