Time moves quickly in professional sports. A player who is the future of your favorite team can become a ghost of it’s past in a matter of years. A franchise face can fall to the side, replaced by new names who are simply able to outplay them at their current level.
This is what has happened to Tyler Johnson for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Five years ago, during their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, Johnson was, arguably, the Lightning’s best player. His 23 points in 26 playoff games was the third-most in franchise history at the time, and he scored the first playoff hat trick in team history.
Needless to say, the 2020 playoffs have not been as kind to Johnson. In 18 games, he has posted just seven points, while being a team worse minus-5. He is averaging just 15 minutes each night and is largely invisible while on the ice.
These struggles have started raising serious questions about Johnson’s future with the Lightning. However, before they think too much about the future, he must find his postseason magic again if Tampa Bay wants to win the 2020 Stanley Cup.
Why Is Johnson Struggling?
In years past, Johnson was one of the Lightning’s Swiss Army Knife forwards, who did a bit of everything to help the team win. Right now, however, his game has been one dimensional.
Each night, he is taking on essentially no short-handed ice time, while receiving about two minutes on the powerplay. If he were scoring, this spread of time would be fine, but Johnson is struggling to hit the back of the net. After posting two goals in the play-in games, he has since scored only two more times.
These scoring problems have been a bit exacerbated by just how good trade deadline additions Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow have looked. Coleman has scored some game-breaking goals, while Goodrow has done a bit of everything for the Lightning.
Essentially, between Coleman, Goodrow, and Brayden Point, Johnson has been replaced in the Lightning’s line-up. Sure, he still is technically in their top-six, but in reality, he is playing third-line minutes without contributing much to the scoreboard.
The problem is simple, Johnson isn’t keeping up with the pace of the game. He has looked out of sync with his linemates, unable to create any chemistry or generate scoring chances. When he does get a scoring opportunity, he is fighting the puck, often sending it wide of the net.
What Can Johnson Bring for the Lightning?
Despite his recent struggles, Johnson is far from a negative value to the Lightning. In fact, he is the exact kind of player that they need to win the 2020 Stanley Cup.
See, even if Johnson struggled to find consistency this postseason, none of that matters if he can string together a few solid games when the Lightning need him most. Both the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars are defensive stalwarts, so scoring will always be difficult.
If Johnson can rattle off three to four goals throughout the course of a six or seven-game series, that would be more than enough to help turn the tide in the Lightning’s favor. Sure, it wouldn’t completely sweep away his relatively poor play, but it would be all that fans remember about his 2020 playoffs.
A Productive Johnson Would Help Lightning Finish Strong
The Lightning no longer need Johnson to be a star to win in the playoffs. They have proven through this run that they have the talent and depth to be competitive, even with a top-six forward struggling.
However, the farther you go into the playoffs, the harder it gets to score. If Tampa Bay hopes to break through and win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history, they will need to find production from all members of the team.
This means that the Lightning need Johnson to find his postseason magic one more time. One game-winning-goal could be all it takes for him to make the difference in a series and help cement his legacy in Tampa Bay sports.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.