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Blackhawks' Tyler Johnson on trade deadline: ‘It's pretty hard to not completely think about it'

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Tyler Johnson remembers his first trade deadline experience as a rookie with Tampa Bay. He had no reason to be on edge, but his teammate Ben Bishop did him no favors when he pranked Johnson by calling him from Lightning GM Steve Yzerman's number using a third-party app.

"That was a pretty scary moment for myself," Johnson laughed. "As soon as you start talking to him, I was like, 'Hey, Mr. Yzerman,' and then you start talking to him and I was like, 'Ah, dammit, Bish!' I knew right away. But yeah, it's a little nerve-wracking."

Aside from his rookie season, in-season trades were never something Johnson had to stress about with Tampa Bay because the Lightning were playoff contenders and chasing Stanley Cups. It's a different story with these rebuilding Blackhawks.

"When I was in Tampa, we were pretty much buyers the whole time, so guys weren't really too worried about everything," Johnson said. "We were looking moreso at how are we going to add, what are we going to do, have our own ideas, that kind of thing. Last couple of years here, obviously being sellers is a little different. You see a lot of guys go that you've been with all year and they're family and friends, so it's tough to see them leave.

"It's definitely different when you're on both sides. It's hard on everybody because there's so much uncertainty. Even guys that don't have their name out there can still be traded. It's one of those things, you never really know."

The Chicago Blackhawks are expected to have a quiet trade deadline because they don't have many tradable assets like they did last season, but Johnson's name is one of the few that's likely to pop up in rumors between now and the March 8 deadline because he's set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

And he's doing his best to try blocking out the noise.

"I try not to," Johnson said after Saturday's morning skate. "It's pretty hard to not completely think about it. But right now, I'm just focused on our team and playing the best we can and trying to do whatever I can to help the team."

Johnson has been traded only once in his NHL career, and it was when he went from Tampa Bay to Chicago. That was an offseason move though, not an in-season trade, which would be something new for him.

"I've never done it before so it would be a little different," Johnson said. "Who knows what will happen. I've been in a lot of rumors in a lot of years, so it's just how it is."

Johnson has 18 points (12 goals, six assists) in 45 games with the Blackhawks this season after missing a little more than a month with a foot injury. His 82-game pace is 22 goals, which would be his highest total since 2018-19 when he scored a career-high 29 with Tampa Bay.

While he doesn't have the foot speed he had in his prime, Johnson is a quality veteran in the room, can play wing or center and is a proven winner. 

Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson has appreciated what Johnson has brought to the team, both on and off the ice.

"I lean on the veteran guys sometimes like that that has winning experience," Richardson said. "He’s been in a lot of different situations. You can kind of use that guy, he’s very versatile, so it’s kind of nice to put him with some younger guys or you can put him with some older guys at the end of the game type of thing when you need a crucial situation taken care of. It’s good to have those guys around.

"He asks questions in the video and in our meetings that are good questions that maybe some of the younger guys or some guys that aren’t as confident in the room to step up and ask a question if we’re not being as clear as we want to them, then he’s not afraid to step up and ask that question. That’s good. It takes a lot. Sometimes it's that classroom mentality, right? if someone’s afraid to step up and ask a question, there’s 10 other guys thinking it. So he’s not afraid to do that."

The challenging part about a potential Johnson trade is his cap hit of $5 million, a tough number to swallow for a cap-strapped team.

Even if the Blackhawks retain half, that gets the number down to $2.5 million, which isn't unreasonable but still a little higher than a team would probably like for a player that would likely play on the bottom-six of a playoff contender at this point in his career. Perhaps a third-party broker could get involved to crunch the number down even more to as low as $1.25 million and make it more tolerable. 

It should be noted, too, that Johnson has a modified no-trade clause, which is a 20-team trade list. So he has some control of the situation.

Johnson is trying to keep his focus on the day to day, but he could be wearing a different uniform by next weekend.

"You try not to think about it, but obviously things do creep up," Johnson said. "It's been something that's kinda been all year. You never really know, I guess."

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