In this series we look at the top five Canadiens since the year 2000 who made the biggest impact in their only season of play on the team.
#5 Mike Johnson (2006-2007), 31 points
In 2006 the Canadiens were still struggling to attract free agents to Montreal. The main prize that Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey was trying to sign was Brendan Shanahan, who was testing the free agency market after nine seasons in Detroit. Having failed ultimately to attract Shanahan, who chose to sign with the New York Rangers instead, Gainey then set his sights on Sergei Samsonov.
The Habs GM also modified his line-up by making a couple of trades. The first was to send unhappy top scorer Richard Zednik to Washington for a third-round pick. The second move was trading his fourth-round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for Mike Johnson. Financially speaking both players were to make roughly the same salary at $1.9 million, but talent-wise it seemed at first to be a downgrade for the Canadiens. “We feel that Mike can bring a lot to our team even if he seems destined to play on the third line. He possesses very good mobility, can kill penalties, and best of all he’s a right-handed shot, something we were in need of,” said Gainey.
Johnson was a work horse for the Canadiens that season, mainly forming a third line trio with centre Radek Bonk and left winger Alex Perezhogin. He quickly became an important cog for the Habs, coming out of the gates with six points in his first ten games, all while killing penalties and being very dependable.
His season almost came to a quick end in early November when he collided knees with Edmonton’s Matt Green. Sheldon Souray immediately came to his forward’s defence, earning 17 minutes of penalties in doing so. Head coach Guy Carbonneau attributed Johnson’s return to the game after the hit to adrenaline, but the coach advised that the following few days would be critical to assess any damage. An MRI done on his right knee concluded that he only had a contusion, and thankfully Johnson didn’t miss any time. “I was lucky that I was wearing a brace. When it happened I got very scared that it would be much worse”, said Johnson a few days later.
Johnson also left an imprint with the Canadiens not just on the ice, but as the team’s representative with the NHLPA. Johnson was involved with the movement that led to the dismissal of PA executive director Ted Saskin, who was accused of hacking into the personal e-mails of certain players who were challenging him. “It’s essentially a question of trust with the NHLPA leadership. Just like everyone else, I felt that I was a victim of a violation of my private life.”
That year the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs in the final game of the regular season when they lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens needed a win to tie the New York Islanders on points, with the Habs edging out the Islanders in a tie-breaker for the final playoff spot. It was a wild game where the Habs scored four straight goals in 13 minutes to go up 5-3, but then Toronto scored three unanswered goals to take the game. Johnson was in the penalty box for the game-tying goal.
At the season’s conclusion Gainey made it known that numerous veterans would not return: David Aebischer, Janne Niinimaa, Radek Bonk, Aaron Downey, and Johnson. “We have several youngsters in the organization, in Montreal as well as Hamilton, and we don’t want to halt their development”.
In 80 games with the Canadiens that season Johnson would score 11 goals, including two shorthanded, and add 20 assists in the process. That production was good for ninth in team scoring, ahead of the very disappointing Samsonov, would end up getting traded during the summer.
Johnson would go on to play one last season in the NHL with the St.Louis Blues before transitioning to the broadcast booth, where he is a highly respected voice among all NHL analysts.