Greg Johnson, Former NHL Center, Dies at 48

By Victor Westerkamp

Greg Johnson, the former NHL player for Red Wings, Penguins, Blackhawks, and 2002-2006 captain of Nashville Predators, died at the age of 48 on Monday, according to his former agent, Tom Laidlaw, USA Today reported.

While the cause of death is unknown, he was forced to retire from professional hockey before the 2006-07 season, when a pre-season physical revealed a congenital heart malfunction.

“The entire Nashville Predators organization is shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Greg Johnson,” the Predators said in a statement on their website. “Greg was an original Predator, coming to us in the expansion draft and serving as the team’s second-ever team captain, and first Predators captain to lead the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During his time in Nashville, he was a consummate professional and terrific teammate who was an integral part of our community and in developing the Predators’ culture that we experience today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Kristin and his daughters Carson and Piper. We offer our full support to them at this very difficult time.”

A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Johnson was drafted in the second round in 1989 by the Philadelphia Flyers, but was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. He then played at the University of North Dakota and with the Canadian National Team. In 1993-94 he began his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings followed by stints with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.

He joined the Nashville Predators when the club was founded in 1998 and became its captain from 2002 to 2006. Under his leadership, the Predators qualified for their first Stanley Cup playoffs during the 2003–04 season.

Johnson will not only be remembered for his accomplishments as a sportsman, but also as a kind-hearted and soft-spoken personality off the pitch, who always cared for others’ interests first, according to his teammates.

“He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” former Predators’ goalie and teammate Chris Mason told USA Today. “He was the kind of guy that Predators (officials) wanted their other players to be like on or off the ice.”

Laidlaw recalled that Johnson was ridiculed by other players for asking for more money from the Predators when negotiations for prolonging his contract were going on. He said Johnson cherished his captainship and the bond he had with fellow players too much to push for more profitable terms.

“His whole family was like that—they were all highly principled,” Laidlaw said. “Greg had a code he followed as a player, and he lived his life the same way.” Laidlaw added, “He always did everything in a respectful manner.”

“He was a fantastic, fantastic person,” the first Predators’ captain, Tom Fitzgerald, told the Nashville Post. “He was just a quiet, quiet guy. Unassuming. Nothing bothered him. He never got rattled. He was just a great person and I was lucky to have him as an assistant captain those early years because he really, really helped me become the leader I was, for sure.”

“I was an average player—I was never anything special—but the best years of my life were here with the Predators,” Johnson told the Nashville Post. “To have a young family [at the time], [an] amazing city, these were, without a doubt, the best years of my life.”

Greg Johnson is survived by his wife, Kristin, and two daughters, Carson and Piper.