General manager Ray Shero is finally getting what he expected when he traded second and third-round picks for forward Marcus Johansson. The ex-Washington Capitals forward was coming off a career year in terms of point production, so expectations were high when he was brought over just two offseasons ago.
Unfortunately, for both Johansson and the Devils, he only appeared in 29 games and racked up 14 points in 2017-18, thanks in part to concussion troubles. To further the concern, Johansson only tallied five points in his first 18 games of this season and missed some time due to a minor injury. Thankfully, the trend is changing. The Devils are finally seeing the top-six value that Johansson held prior to his time in New Jersey.
In Johansson’s past 12 games he has recorded 10 points (4G, 6A) while playing first line minutes. Over this period of time, he has also become one of the Devils most consistent players. He ranks near the top in many of the major categories you want your forwards to be ranked highly in.
In the chart below, which represents the last 12 games, you can see not only are his traditional statistics one of the best among forwards, but his underlying numbers are also near the top. Whenever Johansson is on the ice, the Devils are usually generating chances. This is evident by his Relative Corsi (Rel CF%) rating of 2.08%. This basically means that when he’s on the ice the Devils are generating more shot attempts than when he is off. This is an encouraging sign for any forward.
|#1||Taylor Hall (13)||Taylor Hall (54.69)||Taylor Hall (54.48)||Taylor Hall (7.70)|
|#2||Marcus Johansson (10)||Nico Hischier (52.21)||Travis Zajac (53.66)||Nico Hischier (4.08)|
|#3||Jesper Bratt (9)||Jesper Bratt (51.55)||Nico Hischier (50.58)||Jesper Bratt (2.21)|
|#4||Kyle Palmieri (9)||Marcus Johansson (50.83)||Marcus Johansson (50.00)||Marcus Johansson (2.08)|
|#5||Nico Hischier (9)||Travis Zajac (50.30)||Kyle Palmieri (49.66)||Travis Zajac (1.29)|
Unfortunately for the Devils, this is the last year they control Johansson. At the end of this season, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent and will be able to negotiate with whatever team he wants. With this being said, the Devils have three options in ways to handle Johansson. Re-sign him, trade him, or let him walk.
If you were to choose one of these three options at the beginning of the season it would have been let him walk. There’s no hiding it, Johansson struggled immensely. And the trade that was made to bring him over just one offseason ago looked embarrassing. But after his recent revival, the first two options — re-sign him or trade him — are looking like the more popular and likely ones.
The NHL Trade Deadline is Feb. 25 and if Johansson isn’t in the Devils future plans, expect for his name to be one that is moved. He fits the profile for the wants of any team in contention. He’s a skilled forward who’s on an expiring contract with playoff experience. If Shero is able to fetch anything similar to the second and third-round selections he traded for him it’d be a huge win, especially considering all that Johansson has endured in his tenure with the Devils.
Another option the Devils have is re-signing Johansson. He will be 28 years old when he hits the free agent market after the season. If the Devils were to re-sign him, it won’t necessarily be cheap. Forwards who qualify as top-six talent and are still under the age of 30 hold value in today’s NHL. Expect for Johansson to fetch a new contract in the range of 3-4 years averaging in the ballpark of $4.75-5 million per year.
As mentioned above, letting Johansson walk most likely won’t be an option. Losing a player who you gave up two quality draft picks for two seasons ago for nothing is not ideal. Look for Shero to understand this and either move or re-sign him.
After examining all the possible scenarios that can occur with Johansson during or after this season, it’d be in the team’s best interest to try and re-sign him. After almost a year and a half of waiting, the Devils are finally getting the top-six scoring forward that Johansson is. He also fits the mold of what the Devils are seeking out during the rebuild they are enduring. Not only is he young, but he has years of playoff experience that’ll help when this team is ready to compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Another aspect that favors the argument of re-signing Johansson is the fact he took a bit to get it going this year. At the end of the season, when teams do their scouting, the numbers he produces will not line up with typical top-six forward. This will enable the Devils to offer Johansson a more cap friendly contract, which will help them continue their rebuild on the right track.
Ultimately, as long as the Devils do not let Johansson walk for free, they’ll get some kind of benefit from him. It’ll be interesting to see what route Shero decides to take.