Heading into the off-season, the Penguins don’t have a ton of extra money to play around with adding free agents but they still will be looking to add improvements in talent and depth to their defense.
One name heading to the free agency pool is at least an intriguing one, and the Pens are nothing if not an intriguing team. Should they consider adding defenseman Jack Johnson?
To make the financials work, they’ll likely have to trade Matt Hunwick. How possible that may be remains to be seen, but typically teams can figure out the financials and details if they want to make something happen.
Johnson, 31, has had quite the career. Originally drafted by current PIttsburgh GM Jim Rutherford then with Carolina #3 overall in 2005 (two picks behind you-know-who), Johnson made it clear he didn’t plan on signing with the Hurricanes and his rights were traded to Los Angeles. He played for LA from 2006-2012 getting traded to the Blue Jackets just before the Kings started winning Stanley Cups. He now heads into free agency after asking for a trade or more ice time last season, where he received neither as he was a healthy scratch for CBJ in the playoffs after they acquired Ian Cole at the deadline.
Why should Johnson be interested in Pittsburgh? He has reason to want/need to make the most money possible after a nasty mismanagement of his finances. Could the Pens offer him the richest deal now? Perhaps not, but Johnson has to like seeing older players than himself like Paul Martin (3 years x $4.85m), Trevor Daley (3 years x $3.16m) and Ron Hainsey (2 years $3.0m) show that a high-profile in Pittsburgh can pay off later.
Would Johnson add to the Pens? The answer probably depends on his usage. While it’s true that last year Johnson had but a 48.0% Corsi For % (among the worst on his team for dmen) he was also playing 19:33 per game, probably a bit too much. Johnson also had 101 hits and 135 blocked shots, both among team leaders, and played 2+ minutes per game on the penalty kill. Offensively Johnson adds a bit, with an 82-game career average of 7 goals and 22 assists.
Pittsburgh could use some of that element, much of their defense is more of the finesse vareity (Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and even Kris Letang to an extent). It would be ironic if Jack Johnson came to Pittsburgh to replace the Ian Cole role since Cole came to Columbus and ushered him out.
There’s also this: Johnson and Sidney Crosby were the best of buds once upon a time.
Is that a reason to sign a guy? No. Hockey’s a business and friends come and go all the time. Could that be a factor though? Well, it sure couldn’t hurt.
If the Pens can shed Hunwick, a look towards Jack Johnson might not be the worst move to make. They would get a hungry player looking to bounce back, and in a 3rd pair/PK role he should be able to add a bit of sandpaper to a blueline that could use it. This isn’t a “must make” move, nor would it ensure a championship, but Pittsburgh needs to get some new blood defensively and Johnson is an interesting name to watch.