After a quiet few days on the free agent market, the Buffalo Sabres have signed Marcus Johansson to a two year, $9 million contract.
Johansson was one of the top remaining free agents after the initial wave of signings on July 1. Fox Sports reporter Andy Strickland had reported that the forward was looking for a deal in the range of five years, $5 million, but that Johansson’s concussion history was scaring some teams off.
The Sabres’ are taking a gamble with this deal in that regard, but it’s a fair deal for the experienced veteran. In 588 NHL games, Johansson has 120 goals, 214 assists and 334 points.
In 2018-19, he split time with the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins after being traded on the NHL Trade Deadline as a rental player for the Bruins. In the regular season, he played in 58 games, scoring 13 goals and 30 points.
The former 24th overall pick by the Washington Capitals had a deep playoff run with the Bruins, before falling to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. He performed well, scoring four goals and 11 points in 22 games.
Johansson’s best season came back in 2016-17, where in 82 games he had 24 goals and 58 points. In the three seasons prior, he topped 40 points in each campaign, including one other 20 goal season (2014-15). Injuries have shortened his seasons ever since, keeping him from those point totals.
For a team that has primarily made depth free agent signings so far this offseason with Curtis Lazar, Andrew Hammond, John Gilmour, and Jean-Sebastian Dea, Johansson is the biggest signing for the team yet. That being said, they also traded for Colin Miller and Jimmy Vesey and will look to be taking a step forward n 2019-20.
Sabres Add Secondary Scoring With Johnasson
In 2018-19, the Sabres’ relied heavily on Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart for points. Eichel had 82, Skinner had 63, and Reinhart had 65. After that, the next-best forward was Conor Sheary who had 34 points. That’s a steep drop off.
The organization hopes that Johansson can bolster the second or third unit’s production. While he primarily plays left wing, he’s a versatile forward who spent time at all thee positions last season.
Casey Mittelstadt should have a lock on the second-line centre position, with Sheary on the left wing, but Johansson could provide a boost over Kyle Okposo, who struggled last season with 14 goals and 29 points. Those are the lowest totals of his career where he played 50 or more games.
If Mittelstadt can take a step forward from his 25-point rookie campaign in 2018-19 and with the addition of Johansson, the Sabres’ second unit would look very good in 2019-20.
The third line may get more interesting to watch for Sabres’ fans. The team recently traded for Jimmy Vesey and re-signed Zemgus Girgensons to a one-year deal. With Jason Pominville leaving the team for free agency, Johansson could be a moderately less-expensive option for them on the third line while giving their scoring depth a big boost. However, there’s also Evan Rodrigues and Vladimir Sobotka to consider.
There are young players in the system like Victor Olofsson and Alex Nylander looking like they could be ready to make the jump to the NHL full-time. Newly drafted Dylan Cozens could even surprise and make the roster next season, although that seems unlikely.
Wherever Johansson fits into the top-nine, Buffalo can expect some scoring help in 2019-20. As long as he stays healthy, there’s a possibility he could return to his 2016-17 form. That’s what the Sabres’ are banking on.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.