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Ryan Johansen and finding comparable talent (What We Learned)

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy
Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images
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Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The Ryan Johansen saga stretches on and on in Columbus and neither side seems willing to budge especially far from their dug-in positions on the matter of the young center's new contract. Everyone agrees a two-year term seems wise, but when it comes to the money, not so much.

Johansen wants $7 million per. The Jackets would prefer that number be $4 million per. You can see the issue.

Anyone not directly involved with Johansen professionally or personally likely recognizes that $7 million is a big ask, but that the Jackets' number is probably not enough to be commensurate with a kid who just turned 22 a month ago and already has a 33-goal season under his belt. So it was a little surprising for Columbus to come out over the weekend and say, basically, that they're not unwilling to go into the season without Johansen signed, and would likely just bump every center on the depth chart up a spot. This would, of course, be detrimental to Columbus's chances of winning.

That gets to the issue of what Johansen is really worth, and specifically, what would be a fair price to pay him for the next two years. It must be said that $7 million per is not a reasonable ask for Johansen's camp considering what we know of the NHL's newly rediscovered penchant for dishing out “bridge contracts” to guys whose entry-level deals are expiring; if elite players like P.K. Subban can take much shorter money than that, so too should Johansen. That's a semi-reasonable argument.

But you gotta pay your talent, and Johansen's camp could contend that their client is very demonstrably the biggest talent on the team, as long as you ignore that troubled first-107-games-of-his-career stretch, in which he only scored 14 goals and 19 assists.

So the question that needs to be hashed out is simple: Is Johansen actually this 33-goal guy? He is pretty clearly not the six-to-nine-goals guy of the first two years of his career, which were troubled to say the least (and not always through any fault of his own, though the AHL healthy-scratches can't be that far from his memory). But if you're paying someone $7 million, you better be damn sure that's the kind of production you're getting. Otherwise, it's all acrimony.

There is no sure way to know the future, of course, and every player develops differently, but you can start to construct a pretty reasonable expectation for what Johansen might be able to bring in his age-22 season based on statistical looks at other 21-year-old players who put up similar numbers to him. Pretty simple, really.

For one thing, you have to keep in mind that players' shot and point production tends to increase steadily from ages 18 to 24 or 25, so the likelihood that Johansen takes a step back in that regard doesn't seem particularly large. The good news is that the comparables for players who produced similar to Johansen in their age-21 seasons since the 2005-06 lockout (when goaltending was at a level similar to today's numbers, and with players who are mostly still in the league) are of a good quality.

Among the six players who put up similar shots per game (2.89 in Johansen's case) and a high shooting percentage (13.3) when they were 21, Johansen was fifth in points (63) and tied for fifth in goals (33, deadlocked with some kid named Sidney Crosby). The rest of the company looks pretty good too: Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Phil Kessel. That alone tells you how rare a season Johansen enjoyed last year. All five of those guys went on to significant success as point producers, obviously, and are for the most part very deservedly among the highest-paid players in the game. Speaks very well for Johansen's ability to claim he's elite.

However, it's worth noting that while those six guys were the only ones in the nine seasons to put up at least 2.8 shots per game and shoot at least 13 percent, Johansen trailed dramatically in both those categories. None of the other players put up fewer than 3.09 shots per game, some 7 percent more than Johansen. That's a number which is not insignificant. Further, lots of guys can put up high shooting percentages, and thus score a lot of goals, in one- or even two-season bursts. So is that success sustainable?

In short, no. All those guys — save for Crosby, with whom Johansen was tied — posted higher shooting percentages as 21-year-olds, and all of them — save for Crosby, again — also saw their scoring efficiency take a big hit in their age-22 seasons. Even when accounting for Crosby's huge jump forward in shooting percentage, the average decline in shooting percentage among this elite group was 2.88 points (or a drop of 16.8 percent of their total shooting percentages). Most also saw their shots per game increase significantly (an extra .28 shots per game, or an increase of 9.08 percent), though, which helped to even out the goalscoring issue. 

But again, they were shooting at truly stratospheric levels to begin with, meaning that their shot volumes and percentages were both miles ahead of Johansen's, so any kind of dropoff for them wouldn't be nearly as noticeable as one for a player whose numbers were not quite so sterling. 

That is, if Johansen regresses in terms of shooting percentage and still increases his shots per game in ways that are more or less in line with these other averages, he should still see a decline in goal production even as his shots go up. This is by no means scientific, because again, every player is different, but it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Johansen bump his shots per game up to the 3.1 or 3.2 range (up about 9 percent), but his goal number overall still drop because his shooting percentage could drop by something like 2.3 points to the 11.6 percent area. And wouldn't you know it, that's right in the area of his career shooting percentage of 11.2.

If those numbers hold up, that puts his goal total at about 30 goals or so on about 260 shots.

Which, finally, brings us to the question of who shoots in the area of at least 11.6 percent in their age-22 seasons and scores 30-plus goals? You're looking at elite company for Johansen: Crosby and Malkin both make the list again, but most of the others get bumped off. In favor of Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin, Tyler Seguin, Bobby Ryan, and Anze Kopitar. Here, too, we see very strong company. And while Johansen would, once again, be at the lower end of this list in terms of production (his theoretical shot and goal totals would scrape the bottom), there's no arguing that these are legitimately excellent players.

It seems that those banking on a big step back for a player of Johansen's caliber probably won't end up making money on such a beat. Even if you build some serious wiggle room into the comparables (just 3 shots per game instead of 3.15, and a shooting percentage of 10 instead of 11.6), you're still coming up with a small list of guys who are almost exclusively first-line players forwards. There's one outlier on that new list, and it's Devin Setoguchi; Johansen doesn't play with a distributor of Joe Thornton's caliber, and probably never will.

So no, Johansen's probably not worth $7 million per season. Yet. At least, last season is not something for which you give him $7 million and hope he justifies it. But he probably will be within the next two seasons. He obviously isn't on the level of Crosby or Malkin or Ovechkin or Stamkos or Kessel or Kopitar or Kovalchuk or most of the other guys mentioned above (he's better than Setoguchi, it goes without saying), but if your name keeps popping up on statistical lists with them, then that has to mean something.

Johansen's breakout was last season, and it's one that it would frankly be surprising to see him repeat this year. With that having been said, betting considerable success, even if there is a slight step back, would be a mistake. You take 30ish goals from just about anyone. 

This kid is going places, but he needs to realize he hasn't arrived quite yet.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Who's the starting goalie for the Ducks next year? Don't ask Bruce Boudreau, because he doesn't know yet.

Arizona Coyotes: Expansion would help the Coyotes because all the fees from it would help keep them afloat. Know what else would help? Moving to a real market. See ya.

Boston Bruins: Former Bruins first-round pick Zach Hamill, who hasn't been in the NHL since he got 16 games in 2011-12, signed with a Finnish team this weekend. The Bruins took him one pick before the Sharks selected Logan Couture.

Buffalo Sabres: The Rochester Americans will play a game in Buffalo on Oct. 29. So many NHL games at First Niagara next season, eh?

Calgary Flames: That Tyler Dellow saying about “You don't become the Chicago Blackhawks by loading up on their rejects?” Someone might want to let the Flames know.

Carolina Hurricanes: Eric Staal has been dealing with a lot of injuries the last few years, but now he thinks he's good and healthy again. I think the term here is “cautious optimism.”

Chicago Blackhawks: If Jeremy Morin doesn't get anything done this season, he probably won't get anything done in Chicago ever.

Colorado Avalanche: Avs prospect Tomas Vincour may or may not be coming over to play in the bigs next season. Even his Czech league team, though, seems a bit iffy on it.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus prospect Markus Soberg might become a very, very good junior player this season. Because what the Jackets need is more high-quality prospects coming in. Don't have enough of those yet.

Dallas Stars: This summer has led to almost unbridled enthusiasm for the Stars' chances in the coming season. So here's a list of lingering concerns to let all the air out of things.

Detroit Red Wings: An associate economics professor at the University of Michigan Flint argues that the Red Wings' new arena would be a bad investment for both the city and state. You don't say.

Edmonton Oilers: Craig MacTavish says Justin Schultz has “Norris Trophy potential” for some reason. He almost certainly does not.

Florida Panthers: P.K. Subban practicing at the Panthers' practice rink is the biggest Panthers news of the weekend. Great.

Los Angeles Kings: Marian Gaborik will lead the Kings in goals this season? That's a prediction I wonder about. But him scoring 40, I think, is doubtful.

Minnesota Wild: Mike Yeo doesn't know who his starter is yet, but this might just be the first time in NHL history a returning playoff team has a three-way battle for the spot.

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price was recently named an ambassador for First Nations people. This is a really nice story. 

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The Preds probably won't be too affected by NHL expansion. Take all the guys at the bottom of their roster. They dare you.

New Jersey Devils: Before he got the invite to Devils training camp, Scott Gomez was thinking about retirement. This is basically the exact opposite of surprising news. Dude's made almost $63 million in his career.

New York Islanders: Ryan Strome is going to have a “breakout” season? Just another reason to bet on the Isles doing very well in the East.

New York Rangers: Glad that's settled.

Ottawa Senators: Looks like the Senators might re-extend their affiliation deal with Binghamton soon. Hey, great.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ron Hextall says he likes to look at all the analytics before making decisions about his team, but also will keep Steve Mason as his starter despite the high risk of regression to garbage numbers. Hmmm.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens say Derrick Pouliot will be ready to start the season, and having his former junior coach behind the bench likely means that he can expect a pretty big role.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks might still trade those Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau guys? No kidding.

St. Louis Blues: A Blues fan giving Brian Elliott's new contract a better grade than Paul Stastny's is shocking. I'm not sure about that one at all. Well, I am sure about it: It's crazy.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Andrei Vasilievsky is probably going to play in the AHL this season, and that'll be good for Syracuse's chances. Dude's career save percentage in the comparable KHL is .923. Which is pretty good.

Toronto Maple Leafs: William Nylander might be the most exciting rookie with a chance of making the Leafs in a long time. I'd be really excited to be able to watch this kid 82 times a year.

Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning maintains his own personal depth chart for every team in the league, made out of felt. See, he's just as big a nerd as you are.

Washington Capitals: Barry Trotz says he'll still keep a close eye on the Preds next season. What a nice fellow.

Winnipeg Jets: Yeah, no kidding.

Gold Star Award

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Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

It's September. Camps open in two weeks. I will spend the entire time until then screaming about how excited I am. Preseason hockey remains better than no hockey by a fair shout.

Minus of the Weekend

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Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

This would be a legitimately awful trade for Edmonton. This deserves to be down one header here in WWL.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Ovechking” clearly hasn't looked at the Jets' goaltending prospect depth in a minute.

To Columbus:
D/RW Dustin Byfuglien

To Winnipeg
G Oscar Dansk

Jarmo Kekalainen is in, though.

Signoff

Somewhere there’s a convenient store parking lot worried sick about these missing teens.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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