Photo by John Russell
Greg Johnson is the Predators' all-time leader in short-handed goals with 11.
No matter what Greg Johnson does in the future, he'll always be remembered as a Predator. Through last season, the 35-year-old center was one of only three Nashville players remaining from the intial 26 selected to populate the expansion club's roster in 1998. Johnson captained the club for the past three seasons--as only the second captain in franchise history--and has played more games in the blue and gold than any other Predator (502). He is also ranked second on Nashville's all-time goal scoring list (93 goals) and third on the all-time assists (145) and points (238) lists. But on July 1, Johnson will become an unrestricted free agent, and on Thursday, Predators general manager David Poile announced that he will not seek to re-sign the veteran.
"It was a tough decision and a decision that I shared with our coaches and certainly discussed with Greg at the end of this past season," Poile said. "Yesterday we had another conversation. Really, we both were at the same place--that it was a good run of eight years. He felt good about his contribution. We felt good about his contribution. We both felt instinctively that maybe it was time to go in a different direction. For us to maybe try some different players and get a little bit different look, and for him to try a new challenge."
During his eight seasons with the Predators, Johnson's role with the club changed from that of an offensive leader to the defensive, shutdown center and the team's top penalty killer. The Thunder Bay, Ont. native is the franchise leader with 11 short-handed goals and was a solid performer in the face-off circle as well.
"He was an original Predator," Poile said, "and from Day One he became clearly one of the foundation pieces with the organization. He was a solid player and a solid person in a time that had quite a bit of turnover because of what you need to do in an expansion process. He was consistent and he was loyal."
Johnson was acquired by the Predators on June 26, 1998 as part of that year's NHL expansion draft. Originally a first-round pick by Philadelphia in 1989, the University of North Dakota alum came to Nashville from Chicago, where he spent one season after stints with Pittsburgh and Detroit.
"As a player, he was the perfect pro player in terms of his preparation and his consistency from the first game of the first year to the last game of this past season," Poile added. "He was clearly low maintenance. I think this was a good situation for Greg and his career, where he got to play in a much more important, much higher role."
Now that the Predators have more depth at the center position, Poile and Johnson both recognized that the role opportunities for the 12-year veteran were limited.
"Really the conversation was very friendly, very positive," Poile said of Wednesday's discussion with Johnson. "At the end of the day I think we both agreed that this was the best thing to do for the both of us."