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Who comes out ahead in the Ryan Johansen trade? Grades for Avs, Predators

Ahead of hosting the 2023 NHL draft this coming week, the Nashville Predators got a jump start on their offseason, trading veteran center Ryan Johansen to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk.

As part of the deal, the Predators are retaining 50% of Johansen’s contract, which pays him $8 million for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons.

How did each GM do in the swap? Here are our grades and analysis of the deal:

Can you not love the player but love the trade? That’s the challenge with the Ryan Johansen acquisition for the Avalanche.

He turns 31 at the end of July and has had one exceptional offensive season in his past four campaigns for the Predators: 26 goals and 37 assists in 79 games back in 2021-22. Last season, he had 28 points in 55 games and watched his ice time drop to 15:46 per game, his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2011-12. Evolving Hockey had him at minus-2.1 goals scored above average last season.

But there are things to still like about his game. He’s a strong finisher and can help on the power play. While his offense has fluctuated, he hasn’t been a liability defensively. Again, this reads like looking at a beat-up used car and extolling the virtues of its carburetor. But like any used car, it’s all about the price tag.

The Avalanche needed help down the middle. That was abundantly clear last season after Nazem Kadri wasn’t re-signed in the 2022 offseason. Alex Newhook, 22, is extremely talented but not quite there yet. Colorado was going to search for a veteran solution this summer. J.T. Compher and Lars Eller, both unrestricted free agents, are depth players.

Take a look at the UFA center market. How many of these players who are actually available are better than Johansen? How many would have signed for two years, the duration of Johansen’s contract? How many would have signed for two years at $4 million against the cap?

If you think the trade route was an option … OK: How many centers with two years of term who cost $4 million annually could be acquired for nothing, as Alex Galchenyuk is a pending unrestricted free agent? You’re not getting Sam Bennett or Radek Faksa for nothing, like the Avalanche did Johansen.

It’s a reasonable bet that a change in scenery and role can reignite the fire under Johansen, who’s past his peak but still has much to offer. But the big win for GM Chris MacFarland was understanding the marketplace in making that bet. And if Johansen doesn’t work out, the Predators are on the hook for 50% of the buyout in 2024.



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Newly minted general manager Barry Trotz has done something his predecessor David Poile couldn’t do, which is get Ryan Johansen off the Nashville salary cap. Please recall the Predators left Johansen (and Matt Duchene) exposed in the Seattle expansion draft. His $8 million average annual value contract wasn’t an investment getting the necessary return, and his role was reduced under coach John Hynes this past season. It was time to go.

In trading Johansen for an expiring contract, Trotz opens up $4 million in cap space in each of the next two seasons that wouldn’t be there if the center was a still a Predator. This is basically an accelerated buyout. Had Nashville bought out the remaining two years of his contract, the Predators would have $2,666,667 in dead cap space in each of the next four seasons.

Essentially, it’s a more immediate pain than a prolonged cap headache. The argument is whether that extra $1,333,333 Trotz won’t have this season because he chose 50% retention over a buyout — under a flat cap — will end up mattering. I’m guessing not, as the Predators now have over $19 million in cap space. Just getting Johansen off that cap was the key.

Dropping Johansen also means opens up a roster spot for someone that could be more productive than he’s been for the majority of the last four seasons. And they clearly have something cooking to bolster their forward group.

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