The Pittsburgh Penguins have found themselves in the hot seat this off-season. Plenty of debate has taken place over who Pittsburgh should and shouldn’t move. There is one thing there seems to be a consensus on though: Jack Johnson needs to go.
The Jack Johnson Experiment
From the jump, the Jack Johnson experiment was not met with a warm reception in Pittsburgh. He was coming off of three particularly low ranking seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Pens offered up a hefty five-year deal with a $3.25 million average annual value. There was a unanimous knee-jerk reaction of “this is not good.”
And it wasn’t. Johnson struggled from the moment he pulled on the black and gold. He was notoriously sloppy with the puck. His play on both sides of the ice was unsystematic. Adding Johnson to the roster made the team’s defence slower and less effective.
Pairing him with Justin Schultz began to look like a desperate attempt to make Johnson look better. Schultz’s possession numbers didn’t dip this year for no reason. While it is reasonable to think his injury played a hand in it, the more likely source is Johnson’s sloppy puck handling and overall sloth-like performance.
The defenseman produced almost no offence and fundamentally brought the whole team down with him. The veteran status and grit he adds to the bench are not worth the risk he adds on the ice. Ultimately, the only thing that remained consistent was his penchant for lackadaisical play.
Ground Zero for Johnson
Everyone breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief after Johnson had been declared a healthy scratch for Game 1 of the playoffs this year. The scratch was a shock as the defenseman dressed for all 82 games of the season. Had the organization finally seen the light after watching him post a meagre 13 points over the season? After he registered a -0.5% in offensive point shares?
Regrettably, no. Johnson made it out of the press box for the next three unsuccessful postseason games against the New York Islanders. Although anyone with two open eyes who watched Game 3 or 4 could see he was not up to the task, any pushback from fans or media fell upon deaf ears.
Taste of Reality
Unloading Johnson should be at the top of the list for Pittsburgh. That is easier said than done, though. Most teams aren’t blind to the fact that he’s under a lengthy, overpriced contract. And given the Penguins history, a buyout probably isn’t even on the radar.
There was a glimmer of hope when rumours of packaging the defenseman in a trade with Phil Kessel to the Minnesota Wild surfaced, but those hopes dissipated quickly. Could the Penguins still attempt to move him? Of course. Would it be a profitable trade? That’s the $3.25 million question.
Main Photo: MONTREAL, QC – OCTOBER 13: Jack Johnson #73 of the Pittsburgh Penguins helps defend the net with goaltender Casey DeSmith #1 against the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 13, 2018, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)