Ryan Johansen’s benching has spiked trade rumors to a fever pitch in Columbus. What are the ideal landing spots for the franchise center?
The time for downplaying Ryan Johansen trade rumors in Columbus is over. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella all but cemented that by making his supposed star center a healthy scratch for Thursday night’s game in Arizona. Aaron Portzline, team beat writer and THN correspondent, confirmed the decision.
We can believe Tortorella’s claims that Johansen is “an important guy to our organization” and that Johansen will be shown video to illustrate what the team wants from him. Or we can believe that GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who openly supported the scratching, will start making trade calls on Johansen instead of just taking calls, which he was already reportedly doing.
Which teams are ideal fits for Johansen based on what they need and what they can offer the Jackets? Consider these five destinations:
5. Minnesota Wild
The Wild have plenty of skill in their top six but lack size and power. Johansen would really balance out their first two lines. The cash-strapped Wild have about $1.2 million in cap space, so they’d need to send a body Columbus’ way. How about Mikael Granlund? He carries a $3-million cap hit to Johansen’s $4 million, both players become restricted free agents after the 2016-17 season, and both are falling short of vast expectations. Granlund has a No.1 center ceiling of his own, so he’d plug the big hole left by Johansen, though the Wild may have to toss in an extra asset or two to even out the trade ledger.
4. St. Louis Blues
The Blues don’t technically have a hole at center. They’re as deep there as any team in the NHL, armed with David Backes, Paul Stastny, Jori Lehtera, Kyle Brodziak and, when healthy, Steve Ott and Patrik Berglund. Young gun Robby Fabbri was also a center in junior and could get a shot up the middle down the road.
But the Blues are under a lot of pressure right now. They’re poised for yet another dominant regular season record, but it will be 15 years this spring since they last escaped the second round of the playoffs. Coach Ken Hitchcock, extended on a one-year, last-gasp contract, must win one or more series to keep his job, and captain Backes is a pending unrestricted free agent. Heads will have to roll this summer if St. Louis chokes again. When a player of Johansen’s ilk becomes available, might GM Doug Armstrong be tempted to kick the tires and start his shakeup early?
What makes the Blues a fascinating suitor is that these two teams could be a fit for several different types of deals. If the Jackets want immediate help and need to give the Blues cap relief anyway because of Johansen’s $4-million price tag, St. Louis could think big and offer Backes, though the Jackets would have to be confident they could re-sign him, and Backes would have to waive his no-trade clause. The Blues also have plenty of prospects to dangle, from Fabbri, Ty Rattie and Ivan Barbashev up front to Jordan Schmaltz on defense, not to mention a 2016 first-round pick in play.
3. Calgary Flames
The Flames don’t have a true offensive No. 2 center behind Sean Monahan, with all due respect to Markus Granlund, Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan, and Sam Bennett remains a winger for now. The biggest knock on Calgary’s forward corps is indeed lack of size. Johansen couldn’t be a better fit. He’d take tremendous pressure off the Flames’ first line to carry their offense.
If Kekalainen didn’t demand a center coming back his way, he could mine the Flames for defensive help, as they have an extremely deep blueline. Ideally, Calgary GM Brad Treliving would want to retain Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie. But what about Dennis Wideman or Kris Russell? Could Treliving package one of them with the back-to-earth right winger Jiri Hudler in a Johansen deal? Or Maybe the Flames would have to pony up with Backlund. Wideman might waive his no-movement clause knowing a bigger role awaited him in Columbus.
2. Nashville Predators
The Predators are a No. 1 pivot away from becoming a real contender, and they have all sorts of goodies they could offer in a Johansen deal. We know the Jackets need defensemen, and Nashville is loaded, with Shea Weber, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Barret Jackman. General manager David Poile would be bananas to move Jones, even in an RFA year, and the Jackets wouldn’t have interest in Jackman. But what about someone like Ekholm? And, given Nashville’s depth on ‘D,’ would Shea Weber’s name ever be fair game?
If Columbus demands a forward coming back in a deal, that’s fine, too. The Preds could dangle left winger Kevin Fiala or maybe a top-six guy like Colin Wilson who can play center and the wing.
1. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have the perfect combination of (a) being a bubble team in need of a boost to make the playoffs; (b) possessing some young-ish centers who could head to Columbus in a Johansen swap and (c) loaded with blueline prospects, one of which they could easily spare.
Let’s boot up the fantasy trade machine. Say Philadelphia wants Johansen but wouldn’t dare part with Sean Couturier up front or blue-chip D-men Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. How about center Brayden Schenn, a 24-year-old pending RFA who still has some upside, plus Travis Sanheim or Samuel Morin? It would be the steep price any Johansen swap would be expected to command. And it would improve both teams’ outlooks. The Jackets could one day ice a top unit of Brandon Saad, Brayden Schenn and Nick Foligno, anchored by up-and-coming blueliners Sanheim and Zach Werenski for years to come. The Flyers would suddenly have one of the league’s best center tandems in Johansen and Giroux.
The Vancouver Canucks make sense given Johansen is a Vancouver boy. He could accelerate their rebuild. The question is whom they’d have to surrender. They seriously lack D-men in the system, so they’d likely have to part with someone from their promising young forward group of Brock Boeser, Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen and… naw, not Bo Horvat, right?
The Toronto Maple Leafs always seem to pop up in high-profile trade rumors, but their smarter play is to save their cash and make a play for Steven Stamkos as a UFA. They don’t have the veteran pieces to land Johansen, and they don’t want to surrender picks or prospects for him during their slow, proper rebuild.
Lastly, while the Winnipeg Jets would benefit from a first-line center upgrade, they can’t take on another contract headache while they’re trying to figure out what to do with UFAs Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd and RFA Jacob Trouba, unless one of them was somehow involved in a Johansen deal.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin