When the Colorado Avalanche went and acquired Ryan Johansen over the summer, I wasn’t immediately convinced he was the answer at second line center. After watching tape of him in Nashville, I was even more sure that he wasn’t going to get the job done.
But I never thought it would be this bad. And I can’t imagine the Avalanche did either.
Through 53 games, Johansen has managed to put up just 18 points in a Colorado uniform, but even that looks better on paper than what the team has gotten. Five of those 18 points came in the first six games, with four of those points coming with the man advantage. Since then, it’s been a struggle.
A massive struggle.
In the 47 games since, he has just 13 points. At 5-on-5, he’s producing at the disturbingly low rate of 0.94 points-per-60. For reference, Kurtis MacDermid sits below him at 0.92. He has not scored a goal since Dec. 29, and has just two goals in the last 32 games.
On Saturday night, with the Avalanche getting destroyed by the Panthers, Johansen found himself on the fourth line during the third period. The loss is hardly on one player, but it’s proof that they’re running out of ideas of how to use him.
Not only is he not a second line center, but most nights you are left wondering what role he can play for the Avalanche. Jared Bednar has tried different linemates, but he sticks out like a sore thumb no matter who you put him with. If you put him with a couple of grinders, his lack of speed and ability to grind it out is obvious. You put him with skill players, and he’s a step behind and struggles to create any offense on his own. He’s not been good enough to fit into a defensive role, and he hasn’t been good enough to play in the top six.
It’s entirely possible this is just a bad fit. Maybe on a different team that doesn’t rely so much on speed and tempo, he’d look better, but it’s very clear he has struggled to play the way the Avalanche like to play. 53 games into this experiment, I think it’s clear that this is not working out.
For what it’s worth, Johansen is a fantastic guy. Everyone knows the story of what he did to honor Josh Manson’s mother during the Mom’s trip back in early November. He’s a terrific teammate, and I doubt you’d find anyone who would say otherwise.
On the ice, it just isn’t working. So where do the Avalanche go from here?
Johansen’s contract goes for one more year. The Avalanche are on the hook for $4 million this year and next, while the Nashville Predators are on the hook for the other $4 million. At this rate, if the Avalanche wanted to deal him to another team, they’d have to send a premium asset with him to get rid of the contract. That’s less than ideal just to get rid of the contract, and really, there’s not a lot of teams that can take on that contract.
Colorado could waive him, but that doesn’t really solve anything, and I don’t think it’s something the organization would do to a respected veteran. They could go the healthy scratch route, but I’d have to see it to believe it.
If the Avalanche feel that this isn’t a fit and they can’t find anyone to take on the contract, the only other option is a buyout. Using CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, the Avalanche would take a hit on their cap over the next two seasons, and so would Nashville.
Both teams would be stuck with a cap hit of $1,333,334 during the 2024-25 and 2025-26 campaigns. Far from ideal, but with the cap expected to rise each of the next two summers, it might be doable.
The Avalanche might not have a choice, though. They took a chance on Johansen, gave up nothing of value, and it hasn’t worked. It happens, but a team with Stanley Cup aspirations can’t sit idle while an important player in their lineup is an obvious miscast.
Colorado has options. Which one will they take?