The Coyotes have had a drastic change at the center position this off-season, with the departures of Derek Stepan, Carl Söderberg, and Brad Richardson and the arrivals of Derick Brassard and Johan Larsson.
Rick Tocchet’s team could do with adding another legitimate NHL center to the roster, with questions still lingering over whether or not Nick Schmaltz is better out on the wing as well as where Barrett Hayton likely fits into the team in his second season.
Now, it appears, that the Tampa Bay Lightning could have presented an opportunity for the Coyotes to add a center of real quality while giving up no assets in doing so.
A part of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship run last season, 30-year-old Tyler Johnson now finds himself placed on waivers and potentially leaving the Florida club after eight years.
During his NHL career, Johnson has played in 534 regular-season games, registering 153 goals and 339 total points, with multiple 40+ seasons and a single-season career-high of 72 in 2014/15.
The 5-foot-8, 183lbs Spokane, Washington native was third in Calder Trophy voting after a 50-point rookie campaign and was a strong offensive producer when he was given top-six minutes for the Lightning.
His position within the team has been reduced over the past couple of seasons, seeing him averaging just 14:33 while on the ice for his 65 appearances in 2019/20, where he still scored 14 goals and had 31 total points in that spell.
Claiming Johnson off waivers would immediately give the Coyotes a legitimate top-six center, who also offers the flexibility of being able to play on the wing, to slot in on the second line, while securing his services for the foreseeable future, with his $5 million-a-year contract running until 2024.
The Coyotes would be able to fit Johnson’s deal into their cap structure thanks largely to Marian Hossa’s contract, which will be placed on LTIR once the season begins, giving the team roughly $7 million in space to work with.
He might not fit Tocchet’s desire to add more physicality to the team, but he would certainly bring with him a penchant for strong performances in front of the net and would strengthen a largely weakened top end to the Coyotes’ offense.
If the Coyotes are serious about trying to make the post-season in 2021, with a unique West Division that could have the team sniffing around the final playoff spot, then adding a player that has the experience of winning the cup recently, as well as many years of reliable production, would go a long way to helping the Coyotes in this regard.