When Greg Johnson was named the second captain of the Predators on Oct. 8, 2002, Nashville was preparing for the calming before the storm, and needed a calming influence in the locker room. The club would win a franchise-low 27 games in 2002-03, but the leadership of the soft-spoken Thunder Bay, Ont., native would help the Predators clinch their first-ever playoff berth the following season.
To recognize his contributions to the organization and what he meant to the team's development, the Predators have asked Johnson to drop the puck on Opening Night this year, prior to the start of Saturday night's game against the Dallas Stars.
“I think you want to establish a foundation with your people when you’re in that expansion time, plus the start of that competitive mode,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “You want people that are good role models on and off the ice and Johnny was both. He also brought a high level of commitment in terms of trying to do the things you need to do to win hockey games.”
An original Predator, having been selected in the 1998 Expansion Draft on June 26, 1998 from the Chicago Blackhawks, Johnson was the perfect example of a quiet leader who led by simply working hard and treating people right. He served as captain from Oct. 8, 2002 to June 30, 2006 – a span of 246 regular season games and Nashville’s first two playoff appearances.
“He was the captain when I came in as a rookie,” Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. “He was great; really made me feel welcome. He’s not a real rah-rah guy in the dressing room, but he was a hard-working guy who leads by example, and is just a fantastic person off the ice.”
Both his teammates and the community acknowledged his off-the-ice contributions to Nashville as well. Among his accomplishments, the 5-10, 194-pound pivot includes:
Nashville’s nominee for the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy for three consecutive seasons (2001-04), which goes annually to the player who best exemplifies leadership and humanitarian contributions.
Nashville’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2002-03, which is awarded to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Named the Predators’ Chevrolet Man of the Year for community service in 2001-02.
Included on the list of “Nashville’s most beautiful people” in the Oct./Nov. 2002 issue of Nashville Lifestyles magazine.
Johnson’s game revolved around hard work and attention to the defensive zone. Dazzling with offense was never his game. Johnson would play all 82 games three straight times (1999-00, 00-01, 01-02) and four times in his seven-season Predators career. His 502 outings in a Preds uniform rank third all-time in games played with the franchise. That consistency and longevity places him tied for the third-most goals scored in Predators history (93), tied for the fifth-most assists (145), and in sole possession of fifth on the all-time points list (238 points).
“His work ethic was good,” Hamhuis said. “He came to the rink every day, didn’t complain, just did the off-ice workouts, did the on-ice stuff. He was a guy you wanted to look up to and follow his patterns.”
The hard work earned him a bevy of franchise firsts. He will go down in history for taking the first face-off in Predators history in the inaugural game, Oct. 10, 1998 vs. Florida, and assisting on the first goal in franchise history one game later vs. Carolina. Johnson also took the first face-off in Predators playoff history and assisted on the franchise’s first playoff goal on April 7, 2004. Johnson lists that inaugural playoff series against Detroit as his most memorable moment in Nashville, with his favorite moment coming in Game Four of the series.
“The goal I scored put us up by two, basically clinching the game and tying the series at two games apiece,” Johnson said. “That was a moment and a feeling I’ll never forget.”
A heart ailment forced Johnson to hang up the skates following the 2005-06 season, and he now works as an independent stock trader out of his home in Rochester Hills, Mich. Music City will forever hold a special place in the original No. 22’s heart as the place where he played his most productive years, raised a family, and had the honor of joining a select group as captain of an NHL squad.
“I think it is an honor that only 30 players a year get to have – wearing that letter,” he said. “It was an honor to be chosen to wear the ‘C’ and I did the best I could.”