The Blackhawks traded the retired Brent Seabrook’s contract to the Lightning late Tuesday in exchange for forward Tyler Johnson and a 2023 second-round draft pick.
It was their second trade of Tuesday alone in which they acquired a useful NHL player for essentially no trade cost, after doing the same with retirement-contemplating goalie Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in the day.
It also continued a hyperactive July for general manager Stan Bowman, who has also traded Duncan Keith and acquired Seth Jones in the past two weeks.
Johnson, a 30-year-old center, has seen his production decline in recent seasons, down from a career-high 72 points in 2014-15 and an impressive 47 points as recently as 2018-19 to 22 points (in 55 games) last season.
But the Hawks will be able to offer him more playing time than the stacked Lightning could, and he does boast 116 games of playoff experience and two Stanley Cup rings. He was Tampa’s leading scorer in their 2015 playoff run that the Hawks ended in the Cup Final.
“Johnson adds a large amount of skill and depth to our offense,” Bowman said in a statement. “His versatility across the lineup, two-way play and championship experience throughout his career make our lineup stronger. We look forward to watching the immediate impact he will have on our team.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper raved about Johnson after this year’s Cup Final win.
“He’s an ultimate team player,” Cooper said. “He’s selfless. There was a time in this organization when we needed to take another step, and Tyler Johnson was one of the leaders of that. He’s just carried that on for years now... He never lost faith in himself. Roles change, you have to adapt, and nobody’s done it better than Tyler.”
The second-round pick is a valuable asset not to be overlooked, either. The Hawks now own two 2022 third-round selections and two 2023 second-round selections to help make up for trading away their 2022 first-round pick.
The impact of the trade on the Hawks’ rapidly evolving salary cap situation is tougher to evaluate, though.
Johnson’s $5 million cap hit for the next three years is technically cheaper than Seabrook’s $6.875 million cap hit for the next two, but Seabrook will spend those two years on long-term injured reserve whereas Johnson is an active player.
In fact, the Lightning have been trying to move Johnson’s heavily overpriced contract for years. They even placed him on waivers twice, in October 2020 and January 2021, but found no takers.
Seabrook medically retired in March due to a variety of health issues, and Bowman thanked him again Tuesday for his “cooperation in this process.”
If Fleury does report to Chicago next season, Johnson’s acquisition means the Hawks have now added $12.7 million in active 2021-22 cap hits to their books in the past two weeks (factoring in the Jones brothers’ additions and Keith’s subtraction).
They can create some space by moving Andrew Shaw’s $3.9 million hit to LTIR, but the financial situation looks a lot tighter now than it did at season’s end — a reality potentially reflected in the Hawks’ peculiar decision not to qualify young Pius Suter on Monday.
Suter, Vinnie Hinostroza and David Kampf — along with minor-leaguers Brandon Pirri, Anton Lindholm and Josh Dickinson and injured veteran Zack Smith — will all become unrestricted free agents Wednesday, and the Hawks appear to have little money to try to bring them back. Restricted free agents Nikita Zadorov, Brandon Hagel and Alex Nylander also need new contracts.