Steven Stamkos might very well enter the season without a contract extension, but even if he has an off campaign, he’s likely in line for a huge payday thanks to his earned reputation and demand. But what would happen if Tyler Johnson, who had 72 points last season, regresses?
The difference between Stamkos and Johnson is that when Stamkos emerged as a superstar, it was in line with expectations, whereas Johnson has consistently had to defy them. Johnson stands at 5-foot-9 and his unimposing frame contributed to him never getting drafted while Stamkos was a first overall selection.
Johnson forced his way up the Lightning’s depth charts though by dominating in the minors and more recently leading the highly effective Triplets line with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. At this point, Johnson’s made the Lightning look very good for signing him as an free agent prospect back in 2011. In May 2014, he inked a three-year, $10 million extension, which still looks like a big steal.
It’s clear that the 25-year-old forward is capable of producing regardless of his relatively small stature, but his rapid rise has set the bar higher than that. Johnson played like a star in 2014-15 and if he continues to perform at that level, then next summer there will be anticipation and speculation about the monster contract he might get, just as there is with Stamkos right now. He doesn’t have Stamkos’ same lengthy history of success though, so if Johnson struggles to live up to the high standard he set last season, then he’s less likely to get the benefit of the doubt. Consequently, regressing now might cost him millions in potential earnings.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that his decline would be a significant blow to the Lightning’s scoring depth, which was at the center of their success last season. Tampa Bay needs him to continue to be the next Martin St. Louis. And the thing about St. Louis is that once he broke out with his 70-point campaign in 2002-03, he consistently played like a star for the remainder of his tenure with the Lightning.