Ryan Johansen: Predators wise to lock up RJ long-term

The Predators recently signed C Ryan Johansen to an 8-year $64M contract (cap hit of $8M per season). Today we break down RJ across our 3 criteria for evaluating centers and analyze his relative market value:

  1. Possession driving ability (i.e., be a strong possession player and elevate your teammates)
  2. Offensive ability (i.e., scoring chance generation)
  3. Defensive ability (i.e., scoring chance suppression)

Rather than just take all the forwards at ~$8M cap hit and compare with RJ, we look at how Johansen stacks up against 3 elite centers:

–> Connor McDavid ($12.5M cap hit)

–> Patrice Bergeron ($6.9M cap hit)

–> Auston Matthews (ELC; extension not yet signed)

Quality of Competition

29JUL2017 -- RJ 1.JPG

The Y-Axis (Offense QoC) references the quality of forwards that each center faced. Johansen and Bergeron both faced the toughest assignments among the group. It is not surprising to see Bergeron there as he’s known as one of the premier shutdown centers in the world, but Johansen was Laviolette’s choice for that similar role. Among forwards Johansen spent the most 5v5 time against – Toews, Kane, Mackinnon, Scheifele, Wheeler are all in the top 10. Some good company.

The X-Axis (Defense QoC) highlights the quality of defensemen that opposing teams sent out against each center. All 4 players are “#1 offensive centers” so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see relatively equivalent defense QoC across the board.

The takeaway: Ryan Johansen faced elite QoC; both in terms of forwards and defensemen he played against.

Possession-driving and offensive ability

29JUL2017 -- RJ 2

Here the QoC is the defense QoC (previously the X-Axis on the QoC chart). When comparing their offensive ability, both offense and defense QoC are important (although defense QoC is more indicative of matchups so we include that here for contextual purposes). The important thing to note is that all 4 centers faced top-end defense QoC, well above league average.

Ryan Johansen excelled in 2016/17 at driving possession; he played a 200 ft. responsible game, consistently moving the puck, elevating the play of his teammates, and maintaining possession for his team. His PDF of +9.5, especially in the context of top notch QoC, is elite performance.

In terms of generating scoring chances, Johansen also performed very well. Is SCG score of +2.0 is excellent and well above average. Sure Matthews (+2.59) and McDavid (+4.92!!) rank higher – but those are two of the top play makers and goal scorers in the entire league. Again, some good company.

Generating scoring chances is obviously important – but ability to finish matters as well. For example, if player A generates 10 scoring chances per game but scores 1 and player B generates 5 scoring chances per game and scores 3, we’re likely talking different “skill sets”. The ability to capitalize on opportunities and make the high impact play carry tremendous importance.

To round out this context, consider the following:

29JUL2017 == RJ 4 off

 

We plot G/60 5v5 on the X-Axis and primary assists per 60 on the Y-Axis (all numbers standardized so 0.5 does not refer to 0.5 g/60 or FirstA/60).

McDavid was lights out (0.96 g/60, 1.33 FirstA/60); so don’t let his absurd numbers cloud the excellence of Johansen, Bergeron, and Matthews. Johansen is not a top scorer, but he’s a premier playmaker. His FirstA/60 of 0.73 is very strong, especially considering his usage and QoC. Comparatively, Matthews was dominant as a scorer (1.5 g/60) but slightly below average in terms of primary assists per 60.

Key takeaway: Despite facing top QoC, Johansen excelled offensively, consistently driving possession and generating scoring chances for his team as one of the league’s top play making pivots.

Defensive ability

29JUL2017 -- RJ 3 def

The Y-axis (offense QoC) will match the previous chart, representing the quality of forwards each faced. The X-axis (scoring chance suppression) is our new defensive metric that measures a center’s ability to minimize opposing scoring chances.

Key takeaway: Johansen was very strong defensively. When you consider the quality of forwards he matched up against this becomes even more impressive. Although he’s not quite in Bergeron’s class at top of the league, he’s a responsible pivot who plays a complete 200 ft. game.

Verdict

Centers are an integral piece to any successful team. Look at the past Stanley Cup champs: Pittsburgh (Crosby, Malkin), Chicago (Toews), Los Angeles (Kopitar, Carter), etc. Ryan Johansen is a very solid, big (6″3, 220) #1 center and, at age 25, in his prime.

An 8-year contract at $8M per season is a big commitment from Nashville. Big, but necessary. Nashville traded Seth Jones to get him and would have had a huge void down the middle should they have failed to re-sign him. He’s no McDavid ($12.5M cap hit), but his numbers aren’t terribly different from Bergeron ($6.9M signed 3 years ago – likely in line with $8M today) or Giroux ($8M per season). Kusnetsov ($7.8M per season) also signed an extension this off-season. While he has better offensive upside, Johansen plays a more complete game.

The cost of a top center is high. As you go down the list, $8M seems about right. Kopitar ($10M), Thornton ($8M), etc. You can argue Johansen is no Kopitar or Thornton. But he’s the Predators #1 center, and a good one. And thanks to strong cap management over the years, the Predators were in a position to keep their core intact as they make another run for the cup next season.


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