The summer swim lessons have begun at the Johansen residence, but it’s not Predators centerman Ryan who needs extra work in the pool.
“He’s staying afloat, so that’s good,” Johansen said with a laugh, while giving an update on how his bulldog, Dozer, has been handling the pause to the NHL season.
Johansen addressed his furry friend and plenty of other topics on a Thursday afternoon video chat from Nashville, where he’s been hunkering down for the last two months. He was recently joined in Tennessee by his brother, Lucas, after the American Hockey League officially canceled their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The younger Johansen plays for the AHL’s Hershey Bears, and the brothers have been working out together, partially for something to do, but also because the elder of the two might be back on the ice sooner than later.
The NHL and NHLPA continue to discuss options to return to the ice this summer, and one of Nashville’s top skaters has been keeping close watch on the developments, eager for a chance to resume play at some point.
“It’s like everything right now, it’s so unique and confusing in a lot of ways, but I guess my biggest thing is I want it to be as normal as possible before we get going,” Johansen said of the prospect of playing games this summer. “Of course, we’re not going to play hockey tomorrow and all that, but… it’s just tough. I mean, it’s going to happen playing in front of no fans, that’s just how it seems now. But just playing the Stanley Cup Playoffs with no fans is going to be strange, but it’s something we all need to accept and embrace just so we can go out there and play for the fans [watching at home].
“I just want to get back to normal as soon as possible where we can play in front of fans, but at the same time, you want to finish the year and give it a run in the playoffs.”
The pause to the 2019-20 season has now reached its 10th week, and the past two months have been full of hypothetical scenarios. One of the main issues that has come to be known in that timeframe is that nothing is certain. The landscape of the world can look drastically different from one day to the next, and the NHL has not been immune to that fact.
What Johansen and his fellow players are starting to realize is there probably isn’t going to be a perfect scenario in the weeks and months to come. However, there is still plenty of optimism that a return-to-play plan will be agreed upon allowing NHL hockey to return this summer.
“I’m following it very closely, and we’re getting updated constantly with new ideas, new plans and just communication with the NHLPA through the League and all the players,” Johansen said. “I guess the biggest thing is… we just want something where everyone’s happy with it. It sounds a lot easier [said] than done, but at the end of the day, you just want everyone to say, ‘OK, you know it’s not perfect, but we’re happy with it. Let’s go.’
Discussion over the format has been a hot topic since the start of the pause, and earlier in the week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the League is looking at host cities to serve as hubs that can accommodate a dozen teams or so for a potential restart.
A playoff-only style tournament seems to be gaining ground around the League, but as far as Johansen is concerned, he just wants to play.
“I don’t think I’m worried about formats,” Johansen said. “It is what it is. I don’t think there’s going to be a perfect scenario where everyone’s super excited about it, but as long as everyone can agree and be happy with the decision that will be made, that’s really all that matters. There’s obviously going to be a little complaining with guys maybe not over the moon about the situation. The bottom line is there’s no excuses. You’ve got to go out there, embrace the situation, just play hockey and try and win.
“There’s been a lot of talk about there’ll be an asterisk on this year. At the end of the day, you’ve got a team playing against another team. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. That’s the bottom line, so I think that’s how our group and myself will be looking at it.”
That group was on the upswing prior to the pause, and just like many of his teammates have stated over the past two months, Johansen is confident in what the Preds could do if given another chance to play again.
“We’re feeling good about ourselves, and you want to keep that feeling,” Johansen said. “The puck drops, and you’re hungry to keep moving in the right direction… We had an opportunity there down the stretch to really finish strong and set ourselves up in a playoff spot, so I think our group will still be really hungry to start something and not focusing on anything other than how we finished off and then our coming together. We all feel good about ourselves.”
Just how and when they’ll get to test that confidence remains to be seen, but as discussion between the NHL and NHLPA continues, it may not be long before we find out. And if Johansen has it his way, swimming lessons might just take a backseat to summer hockey for the first time ever.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a perfect scenario where everyone’s going to be happy,” Johansen said. “But if we can kind of meet in the middle, where everyone agrees to it, and then just go there and play, [that will be good]. During the games, you’ve got 20 men versus 20 men, and you try and outplay the other guys. It’s as simple as that. Just worry about yourselves and our own team and try to outplay the other teams. That’s really all it is.”