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.

Trade: Penguins spend big to get bigger, get Reaves from Blues

Getty
Leave a comment

Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he wanted to add some snarl to protect stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You won’t find many – if any – forces more intimidating than Ryan Reaves.

That’s who the Penguins reportedly acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues, who suddenly became very busy toward the end of the 2017 NHL Draft’s first round on Friday.

MORE: Blues acquire Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera, picks

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun confirmed that Reaves is headed to Pittsburgh, yet word hasn’t surfaced about other details of the move, including what is going the Blues’ way.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Pittsburgh’s first-rounder, the 31st pick of 2017, is part of the package.

More to follow.

Trade: Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract

Getty
1 Comment

Flyers GM Ron Hextall made a big splash at the end of the draft’s first round on Friday night, sending forward Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

Schenn, 25, is coming off two pretty productive years with the Flyers, in which he scored 26 and 25 goals. He just wrapped the first of a four-year, $20.5 million deal — one that carries a $5.125M cap hit.

It’s a big get for the Blues, who now boast Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen at forward.

That hit is largely why Lehtera is on his way to Philly. Coming off a “bad” season in which he struggled with injury and healthy scratches, there was speculation he’d be made available at the expansion draft — which he was — and when he wasn’t selected by Vegas, the likelihood of a trade was high.

Lehtera makes $4.7 million annually, through 2019.

With the 27th overall selection, the Flyers took Sault Ste. Marie center Morgan Frost. Frost finished fourth on the Greyhounds in scoring this year and had a strong playoff, with five goals and 11 points in 11 games. It was the second center Philly scored in the first round, having previously selected Nolan Patrick with the No. 2 overall selection.

And here are the conditions around that ’18 pick:

 

 

Vilardi falls down draft board, but thrilled to join Kings

Leave a comment

CHICAGO — If Gabriel Vilardi was disappointed after falling down the draft board, he sure hid it well.

The 17-year-old center looked and sounded positively ecstatic to be joining the Los Angeles Kings, who got him 11th overall Friday at United Center.

“There’s no words to describe it,” said Vilardi. “It’s just joy. All your life you work so hard for this, and then to hear your name called, it’s just an amazing feeling. Having your family there, it’s even better.”

That said, the consensus was that he’d be drafted a fair bit sooner. At the Stanley Cup Final, he was one of four top prospects that the NHL trotted out for reporters. The other three were Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, and Casey Mittelstadt, the first, second, and eighth picks, respectively.

If there’s a knock on Vilardi, it’s his skating. To really thrive in the NHL, it’ll need to get better. That’s why he’s off to Minnesota this summer to work with power-skating coach Barry Karn.

“I know what I need to work on,” he said. “I got a plan in place.”

Vilardi just won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. Now he’ll be joining a team that’s won two Stanley Cups in the last six years with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Drew Doughty.

“I watch Kopitar a lot,” Vilardi said. “I really like the way he plays. I think some of his attributes are similar to mine. He’s so smart with the puck. He’s tough to knock off the puck. I can’t wait to go there, meet him and take whatever I can from him and apply it to my own game.”

Related: Gabriel Vilardi deserves your attention

McPhee, Golden Knights begin process of stockpiling talent

Leave a comment

The Vegas Golden Knights used the expansion draft this past week to stockpile draft picks in exchange for not selecting certain players. General manager George McPhee’s haul helped the team collect 12 draft picks for this year, including three of the top-15 picks in the first-round (No. 6 overall, No. 13 overall and No. 15 overall).

McPhee ended up keeping all three of his first-round picks and followed through on his commitment of drafting their way to success.

With those picks the Golden Knights selected a pair of centers, Cody Glass from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks at No. 6, and Nick Suzuki from the Owen Sound Attack at No. 13.

From there, they began to build up their blue line by taking Swedish blue-liner Erik Brannstrom with the 15th overall pick.

With that collection of assets it was reasonable to imagine that McPhee might try to package some of them together to move up from their own pick at No. 6 overall, perhaps even to make a run at Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick with one of the top-two picks.

McPhee made it sound like Glass was one of their primary targets and even suggested they had a deal in place (involving one of their second-round picks) to make a move for him if needed.

He did not need to.

When asked about the comparisons Glass drew to Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele, McPhee said it was a fair comparison.

In the end, keeping all three first-round picks is probably the best-case scenario for Vegas when it comes to building an organization from the ground up. Luck was not on their side in the draft lottery and they didn’t get an opportunity to get one of the elite prospects, and as tempting as it might have been to make a bold move up for one this is a team that is literally starting from scratch. It needs talent all over the ice and a lot of times the best way to find success in the draft is by giving yourself as many opportunities as possible.

McPhee certainly did that for Vegas in their first ever draft.