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Report: Penguins to trade a defenseman, possibly Jack Johnson?

Could it be that Jack Johnson’s time in Pittsburgh is nearing an end?

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Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

With just days until the NHL salary cap kicking in, the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves above the upper limit. There’s been speculation floating that the Pens may push under the limit by making a trade. Darren Dreger had some interesting comments on TSN on Wednesday night.

“Pittsburgh WILL trade a defenseman,” Dreger said demonstratively. “There’s been much speculation out there around Jack Johnson. That’s a tough contract to move, but Jim Rutherford will one of his blueliners.”

Johnson has had a poor pre-season, culminating in an embarrassing own goal last weekend. He hasn’t been in the game lineup since, including Wednesday night’s roster that looked pretty close to a full tune-up game.

We’ll have to see how a trade would work, it doesn’t take much to scan CapFriendly and see many teams are up against the limit. It won’t be easy for a team to just absorb all a $3.25 million contract for the next four seasons. Especially when it’s belonging to a not-very-good player.

Then again, who knows. We’ve heard the Anaheim Ducks are seeking defensive options. The Winnipeg Jets have some uncertainty with Dustin Byfuglien absent from the team and in something of a career limbo. Both of those teams would probably need right handed defenders more, but hey beggars can’t be chooses at this point.

Johnson was involved in some trade rumors earlier this summer, with Minnesota where the Pens would take forward Victor Rask ($4.0 million cap hit) and the Wild would take Johnson.

This is probably the most likely way out for Johnson and the Pens. Find a team who has another player in a bad contract or situation and make a switch. A new age “Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley” type of trade, which worked out famously well for Pittsburgh to drop a lead-footed aging defenseman and swap in a superior player in Daley who needed a change of scenery/system.

As Dreger mentioned, this will be difficult to do. Johnson has four full seasons left on his deal, and now is falling down towards potentially healthy scratch territory.

If the Pens approached, say, the Boston Bruins and offered Johnson for John Moore, would that work? Moore was a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs and didn’t fit in, and has an identical four years left on his contract, at a $2.75m cap hit. Maybe that works for Boston, maybe it doesn’t. But that’s likely the type of way that Pittsburgh gets Jack Johnson off their team at this point, find a team that has an over-paid player who isn’t doing too much, that it might benefit both sides to make a flip. That’s probably easier said than done since four years remaining on Johnson is likely more than most in such a scenario.

A second way could be using the salary retention function to flip players and make it work salary-wise for the Pens. Montreal, for instance, has a similar disappointing defenseman in Karl Alzner ($4.63m cap hit for three years). If they’re willing to retain salary in exchange for an extra pick, does that solve the Pens problem, who presumably could waive Alzner and save even more money? Could be an option or creative type of route to look into.

A third and most daring way would be to flex financial muscle and cover up the mistake by throwing money at it. The Ducks have announced Ryan Kesler can’t play hockey this year, and most believe his playing career is shot due to serious damage his body has suffered. His salary is high but can be placed on LTIR. Perhaps Anaheim doesn’t want to pay him to be on IR (any contract insurance notwithstanding)? Maybe they would rather use that money on a player who will be in the lineup? Just thinking out loud, but that could be a chance for teams to be creative and help each other out a bit.

Those are three scenarios of a way to try and trade Jack Johnson. It’s tough to believe there won’t be some kind of damaged goods coming back the other way, but whether it’s a player the Pens intend to just waive, or an injured player destined for LTIR

Then again, Dreger specifically named Johnson but he also left it at the Pens will trade a defenseman. Could that be a more minor deal like sending out Chad Ruhwedel for a low draft pick rather than waiving him next week? That might make a bit of sense, but then again a move like that doesn’t move the needle enough to make major national waves like this.

“We have several options,” general manager Jim Rutherford said to The Athletic on Tuesday night. “None of them that we are totally comfortable with.”

Well, we might find out pretty soon if anything else has developed or if the team is just going to elect to take the most palatable deal out there to solve their salary cap issues. If it can also manage to solve the team’s long running Jack Johnson problem, well, there won’t be many complaints from the fanbase.