Can Jack Johnson generate a ‘plus’ season in 2011-12?

Defensemen can be a tough group to gauge, especially for the guys with pronounced strengths and serious weaknesses.

Straightforward shutdown guys tend to please fans because of their efficiency, but their lack of creativity often makes them useless on the power play. On the other side of the coin, many offensive defensemen are double-edged swords in that their pinching tendencies and willingness to lead the rush can backfire on their own teams if a mistake is made. Savvy general managers might track down some solid two-way guys or the occasional elite player, but in order to win a Stanley Cup, teams also often need to make the most of flawed players.

Jack Johnson is one of those “live by the sword, die by the sword” types. On one hand, his offensive numbers continue to climb. Johnson went from scoring 11 points in each of the 2007-08 and 08-09 seasons to 36 in 09-10 and a career-high 42 last season. That being said, he’s never had a positive plus/minus (-78 in his career, including a career-worst -21 in 10-11).

To extend the dichotomy, the American blueliner even receives mixed messages from his team; GM Dean Lombardi griped about his unstructured background at the University of Michigan but also signed Johnson to a risky seven-year, $30.5 million deal. Johnson is supposed to be the Kings’ second star defenseman behind contract holdout Drew Doughty, so Rich Hammond wonders if Johnson can finally be on the “plus” side of the ledger next season. Hammond caught up with Kings head coach Terry Murray to get his take.

MURRAY: “He took some big strides early. In the first half, he was one of the top-scoring defensemen in the league. I thought his play without the puck was really good. He tailed off in the second part. That plus-minus number is something that I look at, and it started to build up again. To me, when I look at his game, I think he got away from being a real hard player to play against, in the sense of being physical. That’s one of the areas that I wanted to talk to him at the end of the season (about), and he was out of town right away for the World Championships. So I haven’t had that meeting yet, but that will be the message. `It’s time to get back to being that hard guy, making sure you’re pinning and sealing.’ And I think that ends the play. Too often, in the second half, there was a little bit of stick-checking and backing off, giving a little bit too much space. Because he’s out there against the top guys, and that’s all those guys need, is one foot to make a play and things were happening around him.”

Of course, many in the hockey community – myself included – think that the plus/minus stat is limited because team and linemate success plays such a large role in the figure. The thing is, Johnson doesn’t pass the sniff test with nerdy stats either. The Battle of California gang revealed that just about every Kings defensemen fared worse with Johnson than without him last season.

So whatever way you slice it, Johnson’s defensive numbers are troubling. That being said, his offensive skills keep rising – he scored 28 points on the power play last season, which obviously isn’t reflected in his plus/minus.

The hope, then, is that he can keep his offensive punch while improving on the defensive end. On the bright side, Johnson usually plays alongside defensive stalwart Rob Scuderi, the Kings have a strong defensive system in general and he’s only 24 years old. Then again, perhaps his old habits won’t die – especially since Johnson won’t have financial incentive to improve until 2016 or even 2017.

I hate to say it, but that the Jack Johnson the Kings see today will probably be the one they see for the duration of that contract. Perhaps his offensive abilities make him worth the trouble anyway, though.

Devils place goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve

Getty
1 Comment

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils placed goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve with a lower-body injury suffered Thursday night in a 5-4 overtime victory at Ottawa.

Schneider left after the second period. Keith Kinkaid replaced him and stopped all nine shots he faced to earn the victory.

With Schneider sidelined, Kinkaid was expected to start Friday night at home against San Jose.

The Devils recalled goalie Scott Wedgewood from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

The Devils catch a scheduling break with a week off until their next game Oct. 27, the first day Schneider is eligible to return.

Schneider is 4-1-0 in six games this season with a 3.30 goals-against average.

————

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings finally settle on one-year deal

Getty Images
8 Comments

The contract stalemate between the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou is finally over.

On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the two sides struck a deal that will see the 23-year-old forward back in the lineup, at least for this season. It’s a one-year deal worth $1.387 million.

Due to Detroit’s tight salary cap situation, the deal has not been officially registered with the NHL because general manager Ken Holland needs to free up space in order to fit Athanasiou’s contract.

Athanasiou, who was a restricted free agent this summer, was seeking a two-year deal worth around $2.5 million per season. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were holding firm on a one- or two-year deal carrying a $1.9 million AAV. As the stalemate dragged on, he began practicing with Swiss side HC Lugano, but did not sign a contract. He had until Dec. 1 to make an NHL return in order to be eligible to play this season. The KHL card was played, but as Torey Krug showed, that move is always a clear bluff.

The one-year pact is essentially a “show-me” deal for Athanasiou, who scored 18 goals and recorded 29 points last season. He finished second on the Red Wings in even strength goals (17) in 2016-17 and tallied a pair of overtime winners. A good year and with some salary off the books next summer, he can cash in with a longer-term contract. He’ll once again be an RFA next summer, so Detroit will control his rights, but he’ll have arbitration rights.

According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, along with the contract Athanasiou has been promised a minutes bump from the 13:27 he played last season, as well as regular time on both special teams units.

Detroit is off to a 4-3-0 start and averaging 3.14 goals per game. Once Athanasiou arrives from Switzerland and gets up to speed — possibly with an AHL conditioning stint — his presence will certainly be a boost to the Red Wings’ lineup.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.:

 

NHL admits off-side challenge error that cost Avalanche a goal

NHL
9 Comments

The NHL admitted on Friday that a decision denying the Colorado Avalanche a tying goal against the St. Louis was wrong.

Mikko Rantanen’s goal late in the third period was overturned after Sven Andrighetto was ruled to be off-side following a video review challenge issued by the Blues.

Now here’s where the fun starts.

Because Andrighetto was not ruled off-side by the linesman when he touches the puck in the Blues’ zone, when he leaves and re-enters the zone that’s considered a (clean) second zone entry. So the goal should have counted and the Avs should have had a power play for a failed off-side challenge.

Here’s the NHL’s statement:

“St. Louis requested a Coach’s Challenge to determine whether Sven Andrighetto of Colorado was off-side prior to the Avalanche goal. The video review decision determined the play was off-side but that determination was based on a play prior to the puck clearing the zone. 

Per Rule 78. 7 (Note 1) Coach’s Challenge: ‘Goals will only be reviewed for a potential “Off-Side” infraction if: a) the puck does not come out of the attacking zone again; or (b) all members of the attacking team do not clear the attacking zone again, between the time of the “Off-Side” play and the time the goal is scored.

Although there was an off-side, it occurred prior to the puck clearing the zone which nullifies any goal review related to that off-side. The entry in to the zone immediately prior to the goal was on-side, therefore the goal should have counted.”

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, appearing on Sportnet’s Hockey Central at Noon on Friday, said he believes the wording of the rule will change in the future.

“The call on the ice was correct,” he said. “The wording in the rulebook is wrong, and that’s where we’re going to have to work with. I think that’s why the rulebook always changes because you come up with unintended consequences, and that was one of them. I don’t think anyone that watched the game last night think that’s a goal we want to count.”

Let’s just go with NHL ’94 rules and turn off-side off, yeah? That’ll stop games from being paused and goals being taken off the board because a player’s skate blade was a millimeter off-side entering the offensive zone.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks’ Gudbranson suspended one game for boarding Vatrano

NHL
3 Comments

Vancouver Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson will miss Friday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres after he was suspended one game for boarding Frank Vatrano of the Boston Bruins.

The hit occurred early in the first period during Thursday’s 6-3 Bruins victory. Gudbranson was given a majors for boarding and fighting, along with a game misconduct. The Bruins would take advantage with three power play goals. Vatrano would retun to the game later in the period.

Here’s the Department of Player Safety’s explanation:

Look at many of the suspensions the NHL’s DoPS has handed out for boarding and it’s the same thing over and over again. The suspended player has time to make a better decision on a hit, but fails to do so. Here, Gudbranson could have changed his angle, minimized contact with Vatrano or tie him up along the boards instead of plastering him into the glass.

Gudbranson will see $18,817.20 of his salary go to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.