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When it comes to Jack Johnson, judge Rutherford by his actions, not his words

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Jim Rutherford said a lot about Jack Johnson today, don’t listen to it

Pittsburgh Penguins v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As he is wont to do, Jim Rutherford gave a lot of tasty quotes to the media today. It was to Josh Yohe at The Athletic and is about worth the subscription in and of itself for the humor of it all.

Rutherford was defensive once more for his embattled defenseman.

“Here’s my summary of this situation,” a terse Rutherford said. “Maybe Jack Johnson isn’t as good as I think he is. Maybe. But he’s not as bad as all of the anti-Jack Johnson people think he is. I’ll tell you what he is: He’s a solid, third-pairing defenseman if he’s playing with the right guy. He’s a player that I happen to really like and I think he’s a better player than a lot of people want to give him credit for.”

There’s a lot here that is unpalatable, starting with the point an NHL team shouldn’t have to pay $3.25 million dollars to a third pair defenseman who is partner dependent to be serviceable. That’s, um, probably not the high praise Rutherford imagines it is.

But, Rutherford has been excusing Jack Johnson since literally the day the Penguins signed the defender two years ago when the ensuing press conference became an embarrassing comedy of errors when Rutherford put himself inside the decision making process of a different NHL team. Jack Johnson was a healthy scratch down the stretch for Columbus in 2018, which was one of about a million huge red flags why Pittsburgh’s five year, expensive deal was a disaster from the minute it was signed.

“I don’t think he had a bad year, he was a healthy scratch at the end of the season. I know the reason why. It wasn’t because of how he was playing.”

I suppose we can make that three straight bad years for Jack Johnson that Jim Rutherford can’t identify, but that’s a horse of a different color.

But, though, when it comes to Jim Rutherford’s words, let’s maybe check the actions more. After all from the same source last off season on June 19th:

So let’s recall:

  1. Jim Rutherford tried to trade Jack Johnson last season with Phil Kessel
  2. Phil Kessel blocked it with his no trade clause
  3. Rutherford thought or said he thought he wouldn’t trade Kessel
  4. Less than four weeks later, Kessel was traded

So hey, it’s more a defense mechanism than assuming Rutherford is shooting straight when he says like he did today:

“I like him,” he said, “and I like the season that he had.”

Hopefully that means like in the “pumping up his tires for a trade attempt this off-season”, but we shall see.

And while many are, quite understandably, upset with Rutherford’s nonsensical defenses of Johnson, it’s not like he said the guy was staying forever, no matter what.

“He’ll be able to play out his contract,” Rutherford said. “Whether it’s for someone else for it’s for the Penguins, he’ll play at least (three more seasons) what’s left on his deal.”

The rest, is just window dressing and irrelevant. Rutherford is fair to think critics are “unfair” to Johnson. He’s not really right, and there’s just stone cold facts and logic to dispute him. Jack Johnson is unpopular by reasonable people because he is exactly who he always has been: a guy who makes way more bad things happen for his team than good things while he’s on the ice. He’s constantly out-shot while on the ice. The other team always gets more scoring chances and goals against his team.

That’s not a matter of who his partner is or what situation he is in, he’s objectively bad. He can’t even honestly hide behind the “well he kills penalties!” defense either:

That said, if the comments are Rutherford’s true feelings, Penguins’ executives and owners should be very, very concerned. Jack Johnson is one of the worst players in the league. He handicaps everyone. He needs “the right partner” to succeed, but that’s not Kris Letang (who had a 46.0% Corsi For with Jack and 57.2% away this year). And it wasn’t John Marino either (who had a 48.6% CF& with and 51.2% away) and it sure as hell wasn’t Justin Schultz after the playoff disaster

That doesn’t leave the Penguins in a good spot. As we said before the season this year “The Penguins’ top six defensemen shouldn’t include Jack Johnson”. It did include him, and he ended up on ice for half the goals they gave up in a short playoff loss. 2020 REALLY shouldn’t have a Pens’ roster with Jack Johnson on it, if it does it will end up how all Jack Johnson’s team’s have done — without a playoff win. For such a “team” guy, that’s some awful team results!

At this point, we’ll see what Rutherford’s actions are more than his words. The words can’t help right now. The actions can help the team if he follows through on last off-season’s attempts to remove his worst player this time around.