As the Boston Bruins’ need for more skill up the middle becomes clearer and clearer, another center could become available on the NHL trade market when the holiday roster freeze is lifted at 12:01 a.m. EST on Thursday.
An NHL executive source has confirmed to Boston Hockey Now that the Chicago Blackhawks are letting it be known that center Tyler Johnson will be available on the NHL trade market. The 33-year-old, 5-foot-8, 185-pound pivot is in the final season of a seven-year, $35 million cap hit. Per our friends at Puckpedia, Johnson has accumulated $2,005,209 of his $5 million salary cap hit this season. Johnson has seven goals and four assists in 34 games this season.
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021, Johnson was traded to the Blackhawks just days after the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on July 27, 2021. The Blackhawks also acquired a 2023 second round pick in the trade and were unable to unload the remaining three seasons of longtime Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook’s contract that carries a $6.7 million salary cap hit.
Johnson was plagued by injuries in his first two seasons in Chicago. He played just 26 games in the 2021-22 season and finished with three goals and four assists. Last season he played 56 games and had 12 goals and 20 assists. His best season in the NHL came during the 2014-15 season, in which he scored 29 goals and had 43 assists in 73 games. Johnson also had 13 goals and 10 assists in 26 Stanley Cup playoff games that season and helped the Lightning reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Blackhawks in six games. Johnson also matched his career-high in goals when he scored 29 times in 80 games during the 2018-19 season.
The Boston Bruins have constantly been linked to Calgary Flames center Elias Lindholm in NHL trade rumors this season. Last week on ‘TSN Insider Trading‘ NHL insider Pierre LeBrun became the latest to link the Boston Bruins to the Flames’ potential 2024 unrestricted free agent. He also linked another Stanley Cup contender in the Colorado Avalanche.
While LeBrun stressed that neither the Flames nor Elias Lindholm have told each other that they’d like to move on, LeBrun, like many around the NHL do, believes Lindholm will be dealt prior to the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline.
“Well, first thing is, it’s been really quiet on that front too. And part of it is that there have not been a lot of conversations between the Lindholm camp and the Calgary Flames,” LeBrun said when asked for an update on Lindholm. “Not that you should read into that because the Flames haven’t told him they’re definitely moving him, and Lindholm hasn’t told the Flames he definitely wants out. So there’s that.
But I do think he’s going to get dealt closer to March 8, and the two teams that come to mind for me are the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche. Both could use that fit. We know no one can replace Patrice Bergeron, but a right-handed center like Lindholm, who has defensive acumen, certainly would be a nice fit.”
As LeBrun pointed out, though, the Boston Bruins are behind the eight ball when trying to acquire a hot commodity like Lindholm on the NHL trade market. Not only do the Bruins lack a 2024 first round pick, but they will have to compete with the likes of the Avalanche and other contenders if they want to acquire the 29-year-old, 6-foot, 194-pound pivot.
“The problem for Boston? They traded their first-round pick this year last year for Tyler Bertuzzi as a rental,” LeBrun pointed out. “Colorado is looking for an upgrade in their top six. But again, acquisition cost. They don’t want to spend too high a price; they’ve done that a lot in the last few years. But it’s a name that will be near the top of our Trade Bait Board closer to March 8.”
Making matters even worse for the Bruins is even if the Flames don’t ask for a 2024 first round pick as part of a trade return for Lindholm, the Bruins don’t have a 2024 second or third round pick either. So if the Flames were willing to do a return combo of picks and prospects or picks, prospects, and players, the Bruins likely can’t compete with other interested Lindholm trade suitors unless the Flames are willing to take back 2025 and beyond picks.
While Johnson clearly isn’t a top 6 center anymore, could his Stanley Cup pedigree and experience make him a backup option for the Bruins?
The read here is no, due to his lack of size and jam at this point in his career, but at this point, one can expect the Bruins to be linked to most centers that become available on the trade market.