Tyler Johnson is not going out of his way to avoid watching the Stanley Cup Final, but he’s not exactly building his day around them, either.
“After a long season, you kinda wanna get your mind away from hockey,” he said. “If it’s on TV I’ll pay attention.”
Johnson and the rest of the Tampa Bay Lightning had aspirations of winning the franchise’s second championship, and after tying the NHL record with 62 victories in 82 regular-season games, they were poised to do just that.
But the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets got in the way, ousting the Lightning – sweeping them – in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. So Johnson headed back to Coeur d’Alene, where he spends his summers, almost two months earlier than he might have otherwise.
“This year was pretty amazing in the fact we accomplished what we did, but I don’t think anybody in the hockey world would have guessed that,” Johnson said of the Lightning’s early exit. “That definitely puts a damper on everything.”
Johnson has been on playoff teams in all but one year, dating back to his time with the Spokane Chiefs when he and his teammates hoisted the Memorial Cup in 2008, crowning them the top team in the Canadian Hockey League’s three member leagues.
Yet just because a team wins a championship doesn’t make it the best, Johnson said, and the Lightning know that well.
“Winning a Cup is so incredibly hard. It’s one thing to put together games in the regular season, but in the playoffs you have to have a lot of luck and a lot of skill,” said Johnson, who played in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, which the Lightning lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. “Everything has to work for you. Anything can happen when you’re in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s not always the best team that wins.”
And so Johnson turned his focus toward his summer regimen of working out in the mornings and relaxing in the afternoons, getting his body and mind prepared for what will be his eighth season in the NHL, all in Tampa. He still has five years left on a seven-year, $35-million contract he signed in July 2017, a contract that includes a full no-trade clause for two more seasons.
“It’s really nice to not have to worry about the contract and where you’re gonna be next year,” Johnson said. “When you don’t have that and you have to fight for contracts every year, that’s a tough way of living, especially if you have a family. … I’m very lucky that I’ve never had to do that. I love where I’m at.”
He also loves his summers.
“I think summers are one of the most important times for any athlete. If you’re not working hard, someone else is,” he said. “The summer is where you get your strength back.”
Johnson is coming off another productive season, though for the first time in his NHL career he scored more goals than he had assists. He matched a career high with 29 goals and added 18 assists, his fewest since he broke into the league in 2012-13.
His ice time was down about a minute from last year, when he averaged 17 minutes per game. But his shooting percentage was up to 17.8, more than 6 points better than the previous season.
Next year, more player data will be collected as the NHL rolls out its Puck and Player Tracking technology, including sensors placed in the pads of every player and 40 pucks with a sensor inside for tracking purposes.
Johnson is ambivalent about all the added technology.
“I think there are some good things to it, some things that do benefit us,” he said, “but I think sometimes people get blown away by it, and a lot of it quite frankly just doesn’t matter.”
Johnson will head back to Tampa in September, in search of that elusive championship. But for now, he said, he’s enjoying time at the lake.
“My days are perfect,” he said.
Johnson to help host fundraiser in July
Since he was a participant, Johnson has been an advocate for youth hockey in North Idaho and Eastern Washington.
In 2015, Johnson helped put together Hockey Fest, featuring a youth camp and a celebrity hockey game that included Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull. The goal was to raise money for the Kootenai Youth Recreation Organization, whose arena was irreparably damaged by a 2008 roof collapse.
Frontier Ice Arena, which was finished in 2012, replaced that arena and was built to house two sheets of ice. On July 24, Johnson is helping host a bubble hockey tournament to raise money to pay to eventually install the second sheet.
The goal is to have 16 current and former NHL players participate, competing against 16 other private donors, said Vince Hughes, general manager of Frontier Ice Arena, who also is organizing the private event at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.
“We’re going to try to raise a little money and have some fun,” Hughes said.
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