Throughout his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tyler Johnson has been many things. In his rookie season, he was a Calder Trophy Nominee, helping to carry the Lightning to a surprising playoff bid.
During the 2014-15 season, he was a true sensation as a member of the ‘Triplets,’ a forward line that dominated the NHL while pushing Tampa Bay to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Even in his slower seasons, Johnson has been a strong scorer, posting at least 20 goals and 40 points five times in his career.
The one thing Johnson has never been throughout his career is invisible. But, to start the 2019-20 season, he has been just that. In 25 games played, he has posted just five goals and 12 points while going entire games without making an impact on the ice.
So, is this poor start to the 2019-20 season just a fluke that Johnson will work through, or should the Lightning be concerned that their once-dominant forward could be starting to see his game diminish?
Johnson Struggling to Score in 2019-20
While it may be a bit of a simple thing to say that Johnson simply isn’t scoring well in 2019-20, this is the biggest factor missing from his game right now. He is a small, skilled forward after all, who relies on offense to generate his gameplan.
When he has had the opportunity to flaunt that offensive skill, Johnson has been snakebitten, shanking open shots that would have been an easy goal in years past. At first, this just looked like the usual rust to start off a new season, but it is happening often enough that it could be a concern.
Johnson’s Uncertain Role With Lightning
When Johnson broke onto the scene during his rookie season, he did so while playing close to 19 minutes each night. In the years after, he took on a more steady role as the Lightning’s second-line center, playing more than 17 minutes each night behind Steven Stamkos.
However, between the breakout star that is Brayden Point and the strong play of youngster Anthony Cirelli, Johnson’s role in Tampa Bay has shifted in recent years. While he used to be a clear second-line center, he is now more of a floating forward, filling in just about anywhere in the lineup where he could be needed.
In this reduced role, Johnson has been unable to create consistent chemistry, causing him to look lost on the ice at times. His overall ice time is also down significantly, as he is currently playing a career-low 15:28 in 2019-20.
What Does this Mean for Johnson?
With four years left on a seven-year, $35-million contract, Johnson won’t be leaving Tampa Bay anytime soon. As younger, cheaper players like Cirelli and Point continue to push their way onto the roster, however, Johnson will only see his role in Tampa Bay continue to diminish.
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With no clear, consistent ice-time, it seems unlikely that Johnson will be able to get back to the gameplan that made him a force of nature as a member of the ‘Triplets.’ So, this means Johnson may just be a middle-six forward who can jump onto the top lines in case of injury.
While far from ideal, there are worse things than having a veteran like Johnson who can step into a top-six role at any time. The problem, however, is that just because he can play in that role, it doesn’t mean that he will produce or even be noticeable when he is on the ice.
Does this mean that things are dire for Johnson and the Lightning? No, not yet. But it is concerning when one of your core, long-term players are struggled to re-establish themselves with the franchise.
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.