(Photo via TheScore.com)
By Michael Wax
It’s the end of an era.
Last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning traded C Tyler Johnson and a 2023 2nd Round Pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for the contract of retired D Brent Seabrook.
Let’s focus on the return first, as Tyler Johnson deserves his moment. Brent Seabrook retired in March of this year, signifying the end of a long and storied career. By obtaining the rights to Seabrook, the Lightning will once again add be using their Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) space in the 2021-22 season. Seabrook’s deal will allow the Lightning to go $6.875 million over the cap once they place Seabrook on LTIR on the first day of the 2021-22 season.
Now, let's focus on Tyler.
I think it's fair to say that Tyler Johnson was the most polarizing figure on the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning. His play was very sporadic throughout the year and raised questions about his desire to be in Tampa. But last season shouldn't be an indication of the tireless work that Johnson put in to become a superstar with the lightning in his early days. Originally undrafted, Tyler Johnson was signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning to an entry-level contract in March of 2011. In a perfectly right place, right time scenario, Johnson went to the Norfolk Admirals, who were coached by Jon Cooper. He flourished in his first season in the Lightning organization, winning the AHL Player of the Month in March and helping the Norfolk Admirals record a winning streak of 28 games, the longest such streak in professional hockey, while they captured the 2012 Calder Cup.
Johnson continued his success into the next season, the first with the Syracuse Crunch. Johnson led the entire AHL in goal scoring and was named AHL MVP despite missing the final month of the season. Johnson’s final month was spent with the Lightning, receiving the callup he’d been dreaming of. Wearing No. 63, Johnson made his debut on March 14 and proceeded to score his first NHL goal in the very next game, against the Hurricanes (Ondrej Palat also recorded his first goal in that same game, wearing No. 74). Johnson went on to score 6 points in 14 games, giving Lightning fans a glimpse of the undrafted rookie’s potential.
The next two years, Tyler Johnson would go on to destroy the competition, forming the “Triplets” line with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, and becoming a lethal playoff performer in the 2015 run to the Stanley Cup Finals. He led the entire league in shorthanded goals during the 2013-14 season with five and lead the Lightning in points during the 2014-15 season with 72. Even with how good he was in the regular season of that year, Johnson turned it up exponentially in the 2014-15 playoffs. Johnson scored six goals in seven games against the Detroit Red Wings com a single-handedly saving the Lightning from a game four defeat by scoring two goals and assisting on another in the span of 7 minutes. He continued his dominance throughout the next two series, even breaking Brad Richards’ single-season goal record for the Lightning (which has since been passed by Brayden Point). Johnson was ready to be the focal point in leading the Lightning to the Stanley Cup when he broke his wrist in game two of the finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, limiting his effectiveness and virtually nerfing any chance that the Lightning had of winning the 2015 Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately for Johnson, his point production would never reach that same height as it did during the 2014-15 season. His playoff performances were still very effective, but the regular season showed a decline in both production and minutes. Even though he tied his own record for goals in a season during the 2018-19 season (29), his play seemed to be limited to goal scoring during the regular season and then completely evaporated during the 2019 playoffs.
Even with another poor regular season in a sub-optimal playoff, Johnson had some moments of promise during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Like he did as a rookie, he bought into the system that coach Cooper implemented to shut down the Stars in game six and get the lightning their second championship in franchise history.
Johnson was placed on waivers the day of 2020 free agency, in what many thought to be the final moments of Tyler Johnson in the Lightning organization. ultimately, even with being used as trade bait and being placed on waivers multiple times throughout the season, Johnson was passed on by every other team in the league and remained with the lightning. Another subpar regular season was followed by an extremely productive playoff, in which Johnson was a defensively responsible fourth-line center and scored two big goals in the Lightning’s game three win over the Canadiens in the Finals.
Johnson finishes his lightning career 7th all-time in games played, 5th in goals, 9th in assists, and 9th in points. TJ should always, and will always, be remembered as a Stanley Cup champion, and one of the best players in Lightning history.
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