Johnson ready to begin next chapter of career
The speculation started almost as soon as the trade was made official.
The Calgary Flames shipped homegrown goalie Chad Johnson to the Arizona Coyotes in Saturday’s swap for Mike Smith, but some immediately wondered if Johnson could circle back to the Saddledome in a couple of weeks as an unrestricted free agent.
The destination would certainly be appealing.
The job description — another season as a backup netminder, with Smith now the go-to guy — might not.
“I’m obviously Arizona’s property right now, but I don’t think a door is ever closed on any situation,” said Johnson, choosing his words carefully. “Obviously, there is a spot to be filled in Phoenix now that Mike Smith is gone and if a contract can be worked out, then that’s the case.
“For me, I want to have a big role on a team. I know I can do that when I’m given an opportunity and a fair chance to do that during a season. So that’s sort of my focus — to be able to be a part of a team that wants that and allows me to do that, to be a big part of a team and to help an organization make the playoffs and get far in playoffs. That’s where my mind is.
“I’ve had a great experience in Calgary. I’m from Calgary. But I also know my career is short and I know my abilities and I want to be able to really reach that potential.”
Johnson was included on Arizona’s protected list for the expansion draft, but it remains to be seen if the 31-year-old was simply a trade throw-in or if he’ll be part of the puck-stopping plan for the Coyotes next season.
The return for Smith also included the rights to unsigned defence prospect Brandon Hickey — the 21-year-old will captain the Boston University Terriers as a college senior — and a conditional third-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft. If the Flames punch a playoff ticket, the conditional pick becomes a second-rounder.
Johnson signed a one-year, US$1.7-million contract with his hometown team on July 1 of last year and posted an 18-15-1 record, 2.59 goals-against average and .910 save percentage this past winter.
He keyed the Flames’ fall turnaround with 11 victories during a dazzling four-week stretch but made only six starts after the allstar break.
“When I look at it, I think the first part of the season, I think I had two bad games. And then the second half, again, I think I had two bad games and that was kind of the end of my run there,” Johnson said. “I think overall, for myself, it was a success. And from a team standpoint, we made playoffs and that was a goal going into the season. I would have loved to have been in a bigger role there, continued throughout the second half, but the team really came together in the second half and Ells (Brian Elliott) played really well, too, and then your role kind of changes because of that. That happens, and that’s part of the game.
“And I look at it as a real good opportunity to be a part of the community as well, looking outside of hockey. To have my family at games and being involved in the community and giving back, it was awesome. A really, really good experience.”
Perhaps, though, a one-anddone for the local lad.
Johnson was talking contract with the Flames before being included in Saturday’s trade and with Calgary’s general manager, Brad Treliving, likely shopping for an experienced sidekick to Smith, it would be crazy to completely rule out a reunion.
However, Johnson is hoping for a crease to call his own, whether that’s in Arizona — “Right now, we’re just sorting through all the different options,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka told the Arizona Republic — or elsewhere.
“I feel like I’m ready for that next step, to play more games,” said Johnson, who logged a career-high 45 crease-calls for the Buffalo Sabres in 2015-16. “I think I can bring that consistency to a team in more of a major role than just 30 games a year or 20 games a year. I think I’ve proven I can be the best or one of the best guys in that role, playing 30, and I think I’ve proven I can play 40-plus games or 50 games a year, too.
“I feel like I’m ready but at the end of the day, you just have to have someone give you that opportunity. I look around the league and there are always other people you look at going, ‘Why him? What did he do? How did he get that opportunity off what he’s done?’
“That’s one thing that I’ve learned is you can’t worry about that. You just have to worry about getting better and hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to help a team be better.”
Free-agent goaltender Chad Johnson says he is not ruling out a return to his hometown team, the Calgary Flames, after his rights were traded to Arizona in return for fellow goaltender Mike Smith.