Jack Johnson: King-sized frustration

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jackjohnson.jpgEvery now and then, Pro Hockey Talk will ask for insight from some of the best team bloggers out there. For this feature, we asked a simple question: “Who is your team’s most frustrating player?” Just for fun, Brandon and I also provided our “guesses” as to who that player might be.

First, here are our guesses for the Kings.

Brandon: Jonathan Quick – He’s been good. Great even. Problem is, he’s been so reliable and consistent this season, he’s forced the Kings to play him every single night. Most likely 71-73 games this season. So he’ll collapse in the playoffs from exhaustion.

James: Alex Frolov – Frolov might not be a source of frustration for the Kings much longer with his contract set to expire but the Russian winger has regressed substantially since his breakout 2006-07 season.

For the Kings’ perspective, I tabbed “Chris Kontos” of the Royal Half. Check out his blog for all the snarky, photo-heavy fun.

When it comes to frustrating Los Angeles Kings fans, there’s no player better at it than Alexander Frolov. Since being drafted 20th overall in the very competitive 2000 NHL Draft, Frolov has been consistently inconsistent. 14 goals his rookie year… 24 goals his sophomore season followed by years of 21, 35, 23, 32 and a measly 17 goals this NHL season… which just happens to be an important contract year for the Russian winger. Frolov can dance around in the corners with the puck for an entire shift and then disappear for an entire game. And the worst part of it all? Frolov skates around the whole time with a sweet innocent smile on his face giving his critics more fuel to their interpretation of him as someone who isn’t passionate about being a professional hockey player.

That being said, Frolov’s not the most frustrating player for me on the Kings roster. After 7 years in the NHL, I think this is the best Frolov is going to get. Maybe some other NHL coach will be able to get it out of him… but Andy Murray, Marc Crawford and Terry Murray all sure weren’t able to. No, my most Frustrating Los Angeles King is USA posterboy and Biff Tannen look-a-like, Jack Johnson.

More on Jack Johnson after the jump.


jackjohnson2.jpgJack Johnson was born and bred to be an elite NHL defenseman. He is a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program, was prep school teammates and best friends with Sidney Crosby and dominated college hockey during his time at Michigan. Drafted 3rd overall in 2005 by the Carolina Hurricanes, Johnson was pegged as a can’t-miss, #1 NHL defenseman who could crush bodies as much as he could crush slap shots from the point. Jack had no intention of playing in Carolina and was stolen by Kings GM Dean Lombardi in exchange for Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason, thus creating his famous nickname when Kings fans exclaimed, “Oh my god, we just got Jack M’F’ing Johnson!”

Well, 3 full NHL seasons later, JMFJ has been anything but MF’ing. He’s a defensive liability and his only legitimate scoring threat has been in the shootout. (5 for 13 this year so far.) On the same shift, Johnson can create an explosive offensive play and then pass the puck right up the middle on defense, leading to a goal against. Even his own GM exploded earlier this season in frustration with JJ’s play:

“Jack Johnson, three years ago, was all highlight film stuff,” said Lombardi. “But the trouble is, the highlight film stuff was only once every three games. In between, it was all fire drills. [He just had to] simplify [his game]. No highlights. The highlights will come back once you start to simplify.”

“But you’re hoping the [solid defensive play] becomes second nature. He still has to think about it. But when that becomes second nature, now recognize when you can put on your show.”

In a day and age when Top 3 NHL picks are stepping in and become impact players immediately, Jack Johnson is still left on the fringe. In fact, he was recently named the Least Valuable Player in 5 on 5 play

With Drew Doughty vaulting past Jack Johnson in a season and half… Johnson can be a nightly source of frustration for loyal Kings fans. Most games he’s outplayed by Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene and sometimes even Sean O’Donnell. If it wasn’t for Randy Jones… JMFJ just might be the 6th best defenseman on the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have many young defensive prospects in their system and with Jack Johnson set to be a UFA at the end of next season… Dean Lombardi just might be letting this MF’er go free some day soon.

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.

Lombardi’s goal was to assemble USA World Cup team ‘that you think can beat Canada’

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: Dean Lombardi, an advisor to the 2014 Men's Olympic Hockey Team is introduced at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 29, 2013 in New York City.(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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When Dean Lombardi put together the United States roster for the return of the World Cup of Hockey, one model that attracted his attention was a team from 20 years ago.

That U.S. team led by Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Mike Modano and Mike Richter beat Canada to win the tournament, a title the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings hopes to duplicate this fall. Lombardi and USA Hockey finalized the 23-man roster Friday, and the result was a gritty bunch that will very much fit coach John Tortorella’s personality.

Instead of taking pure skill in the form of forwards Phil Kessel and Paul Stastny and defensemen Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk, the U.S. went with grinders Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky up front and two-way players Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson on the blue line. Lombardi said the goal was the “type of the team that you think can beat Canada,” and one that will coalesce quickly without much time to prepare.

Related: Kessel takes World Cup snub in stride — ‘It is what it is’

“It made it essential that you do all your research in terms of not only the quality of the player and his ability but their history of being a good teammate and things like that,” Lombardi said Tuesday in a phone interview. “There was a lot to choose from, don’t forget. There are a lot of good players and you could easily argue that this guy should be here and everything else, and you wouldn’t be wrong.”

The 1996 team had high-end skill in the form of Hull, Modano, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, who scored the World Cup-winning goal that Lombardi considers the biggest in U.S. hockey history – more significant than Mike Eruzione’s from the “Miracle on Ice” against the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics.

Lombardi was quick to point to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, Minnesota Wild’s Zach Parise and San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski as the offensive talent that should mesh with the toughness of Dubinsky, Callahan, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes and Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler.

No Kessel came as a surprise given that he tied for the scoring lead at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and is leading the Pittsburgh Penguins in points in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Lombardi said the U.S. had plenty of skilled wingers and was looking to fill specific roles with its final few players.

“He’s a top player, but so are these other guys,” Lombardi said of Kessel. “It’s a good problem to have, but you can’t have all skill just like you can’t have all grit. You’re building a team, not an All-Star team.”

Lombardi and fellow USA Hockey management members Paul Holmgren and Brian Burke like a certain amount of size and toughness on their teams, so they knew this team would have a certain MO. Hiring Tortorella cemented that, and the final roster meetings in Colorado included a lot of the coach’s input.

But Lombardi also talked to 1996 World Cup-winning players like Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin and Derian Hatcher as well as some who got a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics and lost the bronze-medal game in Sochi. He wanted to know what went right, what went wrong and how to fix it, going so far as to watch the 1996 tournament again in the process.

That group was together in dorm rooms for a month in Providence, Rhode Island. The 2016 team will have some time at training camp in Columbus, Ohio, but that’s so little preparation that Lombardi and Co. wanted to define jobs in advance.

“If you’re going to pull it together quickly, it’s very clear what your roles are,” Lombardi said. “You don’t have time for players to figure that out. That’s what a player wants. He wants to know his role, then he’ll fit into your team concept.”

With a focus on NHL-sized ice and Canada as the target, Lombardi hopes he put together the right mix to win it all in Toronto.

Canada is “the benchmark and that’s what you’ve got to look at if you’re going to win this thing,” Lombardi said. “If they can come together like (the 1996) group and learn from maybe some of the mistakes they made as a group in the past and a lot of them have been together, they can beat Canada. No doubt about it.”

‘He was great, full of life’: Sharks’ Braun mourns the passing of father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks looks on during the third period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with a heavy heart.

According to CSN Bay Area, Braun’s father-in-law and NHL veteran Tom Lysiak passed away at the age of 63 after a battle with leukemia.

The news was confirmed Monday.

“He was great, full of life,” said Braun, as per CSN Bay Area. “Loved to hang out with the boys. Loved to talk about his hockey days. Great father, great husband. Great to me, welcomed me into the family.

“Just a tough day.”

Lysiak was a three-time NHL all-star, playing 13 seasons in the league with the Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 292 goals and 843 points in 919 games over the course of his career.

Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. As per CSN Bay Area, he is expected to be in the Sharks lineup for Game 2.

“It’s a tough situation. To Justin’s credit, he was business as usual. He’s made some arrangements for after Game 2 to pay his respects and do what he has to do on that end,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters.

“There’s not much you can do. You feel for him. He went out there, he battled for us under tough circumstances. I think we all appreciate it.”

Video: Crosby has an ‘insatiable appetite’ to get better

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Remember when Sidney Crosby was publicly criticized by some members of the media — here’s one particular example — as the Pittsburgh Penguins faced elimination in the Eastern Conference Final?

Well, the Penguins’ captain set the tone for the Stanley Cup Final, as Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 series lead with a thrilling 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

Crosby had an assist, setting up Conor Sheary for the second goal of the evening. He had four shots on goal in almost 21 minutes of ice time and his line with Sheary and Patric Hornqvist was, for the most part, dominant in possession.

(On the ice together for 13:37 at five-on-five, Crosby and Hornqvist had Corsi For ratings of 56.52 per cent, as per War-on-Ice.)

“He steps up in big games and he always has and he always will. He’s the leader in this locker room and on the ice, and you expect that from him in games like this,” Sheary told reporters.

On the Sheary goal, Crosby was able to win a race with Sharks’ defenseman Justin Braun to the puck, turn on a dime as Braun lost an edge and slid to the ice, and find Sheary wide open in the slot. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic preoccupied dealing with Hornqvist in front, Sheary ripped a shot stick side on Martin Jones.

“He sees you all over the ice. They overbackchecked a bit and I found that soft area. I was looking far side (on Jones),” said Sheary.

“That’s what Sid is always great at — getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space,” added Chris Kunitz to NHL.com.

That was part of a long night for Braun and Vlasic in trying to at least contain the Crosby line.

Sheary and Hornqvist both benefited with sterling possession numbers against both Sharks’ blue liners, who seem to have drawn the main assignment against No. 87.

(In fairness to Braun, he is also dealing with a personal issue after losing his father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak, after a battle with leukemia prior to Game 1.)

The Penguins now go for the 2-0 series lead on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, as the Penguins held an optional skate, Crosby was apparently one of two regulars on the ice.

“I don’t think he’s as good as he is by accident,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters.

“As long as I’ve been associated with this league, I don’t know that I’ve been around a player that has the same work ethic as Sid does as far as that insatiable appetite to just try to get better and be the best. I think that’s why he’s as good as he is.”