Player: Jack Johnson
Born: January 13, 1987
Weight: 227 pounds
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana
Contract Status: Signed through the 2022-23 season at a salary cap hit of $3.25 million per season.
Regular Season History
At one time in his career Johnson put up decent enough offensive numbers for a top-four defender, but those days are long gone. And that offense always came with the fact that his team was consistently and badly outscored (and outshot, and outchanced) when he has been on the ice, a trend that continued this past season, his first as a member of the Penguins. Johnson’s 2.72 goals against 5v5 per 60 was the worst among regular defensemen on the team, and being on-ice for 60 goals against was the highest among Penguins’ players.
Put another way, if Jack Johnson was on the ice and a goal was scored while at even strength, only 43.3% of the time did the Pens score it.
When Johnson was on the bench and a goal was scored in a Penguins’ game at 5-on-5, there was a 60.1% chance the Pens scored it.
Game Of The Season
February 26, 2019 — The Jack Johnson revenge game, we will call it. This was one of the nights in February where the Penguins defense was a shell of what it normally was due to injuries, and Johnson logged more than 26 minutes in a 5-2 win against his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. He finished with an assist and a plus-3 rating in the win.
After being a healthy scratch in the playoffs a year ago for the Columbus Blue Jackets (something that would get referenced at his introductory press conference in Pittsburgh, sparking a public conflict between John Tortorella and Jim Rutherford) he opened the 2018-19 postseason as, again, a healthy scratch. That was noteworthy because he appeared in all 82 regular season games and was constantly defended by the organization against any and all public criticism. Then, for the first game of the playoffs with everyone healthy on the blue line, he was the odd-man out. After the Penguins lost that game in overtime Johnson returned to the lineup for the next three games and was part of a defense that consistently played sloppy with the puck and could not handle the New York Islanders’ forecheck. Johnson had particularly rough performances in Games 3 and 4 of the series.
Would it be harsh to say that, ideally, he is playing for another team? It might be, but it is probably the truth. Between him and Erik Gudbranson the Penguins have more than $7 million per season (for multiple seasons!) tied up in defenders that should ideally be sixth or seventh defenders on a Stanley Cup contending team. He has already been mentioned in trade rumors alongside Phil Kessel with the Minnesota Wild, but even if that trade does not happen (which it seems it will not) there is still reason to believe, despite their public comments, that they would like to move on and continue a disturbing two-year trend of one-season-or-less players with the team. If he does play for the Penguins again the ideal role is a sixth-defender that plays limited sheltered minutes, or even spends a few nights in the press box.
Worst Case 2019-20
He is still playing for the Penguins and in a top-four role. Look, he is going to be 33 years old this season, has a lot of miles on his career, and is not going to get any faster, better with the puck, or better with his defensive positioning. He has an extensive track record of NHL performance that is below the line and it is hard to see that getting better at this point in his career. Whatever positive traits he brings to the table are outweighed by the numerous shortcomings.
The Penguins, needing to shed salary, find a way to deal him, whether it be as part of a package trade or in a swap for another team’s problem contract it wants to get rid of. No matter where he plays (Pittsburgh or another team) his season probably looks like the past couple, where he plays 18-20 minutes per night and gets outshot, outchanced, and outscored when he is on the ice.
This had bad news written all over it from the start. Even if Johnson’s cap hit is fair for a player of his experience and quality the five-year term was just an insanely dumb commitment. Even if you want to argue he is a suitable third-pairing defender, who signs a third-pairing defender for five years when they will be in their late-30s when the contract expires? Maybe the reaction to his play has been a non-stop case of piling on, but the signing made the defense slower, less mobile, and just overall ... worse. Is there anyway it can be salvaged? Or is there a trade to be made?
Grade Jack Johnson’s 2018-19 Season
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