June 25, 2023


 There should be limits to the giddiness over the Avalanche's Saturday acqusition of center Ryan Johansen  from the Nashville Predators. The Avalanche gave up the rights to center Alex Galchenyuk, who played 11 games with the Avalanche and 42 for the Colorado Eagles last season and is a pending unrestricted free agent.


A year after Nazem Kadri's signing with Calgary, Johansen is not an automatic solution to the Avalanche's quest for a high-quality second-line center. He might turn out to be just that. He might not. I'm not going to pound the keys so hard either way, you can hear me in Sedalia and Lafayette. Here's what I know: It was worth a shot.


For the Avalanche's purposes, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Johansen is a $4-million center for the remaining two seasons of his contract, since the Predators will retain the remaining $4 million each season. That $4 milion is a more-than-palatable cap number against the Avalanche backdrop, with Gabe Landeskog's $7 million available under long-term-injured reserve and with Erik Johnson apparently departing and his $6-million cap hit coming off the books.  


Here's the official GM-speak from Chris MacFarland in the Avalanche release Saturday about Johansen, who will turn 31 on July 31: “Ryan is a talented, veteran center who helps our top six. He gives us size in the middle of the ice and brings leadership and experience to our roster. We look forward to adding him to our team.” 


That wisely seems to be taking care to avoid overselling Johansen at this stage of his career.   


For me, the major red flag is that new Predators GM Barry Trotz, taking over from the retired David Poile, was willing to trade Johansen to a Central Division rival as he clears out cap space and veterans no longer delivering bang for the buck. Clearly, Trotz assessed Johansen and wasn't enamored of what he saw. Whether the leg injury that forced Johansen to miss the final 27 games last season was an additional minor issue for Trotz is open to speculation. But for the Avalanche, the situation is different. If Johansen can approach the 20-goal benchmark and remain one of the best face-off men in the league while centering the second line, that fills the bill -- regardless of what happens with pending UFA J.T. Compher. Yes, Johansen's best seasons -- at least statistically -- mostly were earlier in his career, but he did have 26 goals in 2021-22, before he drew attention around here when he inadvertently caught Avs' goalie Darcy Kuemper in the eye with his stick in Colorado's first-round sweep.  


Alex Newhook, who so far has fizzled in looks on the second line, is an RFA. The NHL has waved off concerns about winger Valeri Nichushkin, saying there are no obstacles that could stand in  the way of his return, and the Colorado media -- with the exception of 9News -- generally seems unwilling to try to additionally pursue the story of how he came to abandon his team during the playoffs. But his status is part of the puzzle, too. 


Amid all that, it's hard to find a downside to the Johansen deal.


No, he hasn't quite lived up to expectations with Columbus and Nashville since going fourth overall to the Blue Jackets in the 2010 draft, after the first of his two seasons with major junior's Portland Winterhawks. There, he was on a devastating line with Nino Niederriter, who went one pick after Johansen in the 2010 draft, to the Islanders.  Johansen hasn't been a star. (For the record, Galchenyuk was the No. 3 overall choice in 2012, to Montreal.) 


But Johansen's January 2016 trade for Seth Jones -- the son of current Nuggets assistant Popeye Jones --  was considered monumental at the time. Johansen has had a solid, if unspectacular career, mostly as a first-line center, but could be a valuable part with the Avs.


(An afterthought on Erik Johnson: I get that there are complications and that it would be best to let everything get sorted out first. Anything close to another $6-million deal, regardless of length, for Johnson isn't appropriate now after the expiration of his seven-year contract. But if he's still out there as a UFA and unsigned later, I don't think the Avs should rule out a circle-back contract for Johnson with the Avs as an insurance D-man ... if both the Avs and Johnson can accept that.)         





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