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.

IOC resistant to NHL’s demand to be treated like Olympic sponsor

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In order for the NHL to keep sending its players to the Olympics, Gary Bettman wants the IOC to treat his league more like an Olympic sponsor gets treated.

“We don’t even get the opportunity to promote the fact that we’re at the Olympics,” Bettman lamented earlier this month. “We don’t get to use the rings. I’ve said to the IOC, you know, Coca-Cola is a sponsor, they get to promote their association and say ‘proud sponsor of the Olympics.’ They won’t let us do that.”

It’s not a wholly unfair request by the commissioner. The NHL has to disrupt its season to send players to the Games, and the owners have to risk the health of their stars.

That said, it doesn’t sound like the IOC is going to budge.

“Obviously, this time the owners of the NHL clubs are putting more commercial conditions to the IOC and the Olympic movement,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told Reuters.

“The IOC knows that the NHL understands that the Olympic movement cannot treat the owners of a commercial franchise of a national league better than an international sports federation or other professional leagues with regard to the Olympic Games.”

Translation: The IOC isn’t about to open a can of worms. (See: Mark Cuban, NBA participation)

Recently, NHLPA chief Donald Fehr summed up the NHL’s desire to get compensated for Olympic participation.

“Based on the proposals to us and the suggestions to the IOC, they don’t care who pays them,” Fehr told Postmedia. “They just want somebody to.”

And according to Fehr, it won’t be the players who pay the NHL.

So if the players aren’t going to give the NHL anything, and the IOC isn’t going to give the NHL anything, well, you see the problem.

Bylsma calls Reinhart’s rule violation, subsequent benching ‘disappointing’

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There was a strange sight during Buffalo’s 3-1 loss to Columbus on Tuesday night: Sabres forward Sam Reinhart, fully dressed, sitting on the end of the bench.

And not moving.

At all.

Reinhart was parked for the entire 60 minutes last night, which the Sabres later revealed to be punishment for violating team policy. According to a Buffalo News source, the 21-year-old showed up late to a meeting in the team hotel.

Suffice to say, Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t happy with the situation, or the outcome.

“We’re going to move forward from here,” Bylsma said. “Disappointing, but it happened and we dealt with it. We’re going to move on from here.

“We’re part of a team. We do things as a team. That’s hopefully the lesson.”

This isn’t the first time Reinhart’s run afoul of Bylsma this season.

In late October — and with Reinhart failing to find the back of the net — Bylsma said the club needed to get more out of the sophomore forward, who had 23 goals and 42 points as a rookie last season.

That said, Reinhart has exceeded his point total from last year, currently on 46, and has been a steady lineup presence (well, aside from last night). He’s one of just a handful of Sabres to appear in 70-plus games this season, and saw his TOI jump up to 17:15 per night.

NHL on NBCSN: Injury-riddled Pens look to snap three-game skid against slumping Blackhawks

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Since the All-Star break, the Blackhawks have been one of the better teams in the NHL. Their terrific run over the last few weeks has not only allowed them to jump ahead of Minnesota for top spot in the Central, but it’s also enabled them to build a seven-point lead over their division rival.

But it’s not all perfect in Chicago right now. Despite the fact that they’re in a good spot in the standings, the ‘Hawks had a rough ride through Florida in the last few days.

On Saturday night, they were thumped 7-0 by the Panthers, and on Monday, they blew a 4-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing in overtime.

Their effort may have been better on Monday than it was on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough to propel them to victory.

“I thought we were 100 percent better than we were last game,” head coach Joel Quenneville said after the loss to the Bolts, per the Chicago Tribune. “I know we had everything going our way there and we started getting cute in the neutral zone and had turnovers in that area, gave them rush chances.”

The performances in their last two games led defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to suggest that his team was “too comfortable” this late into the season.

The ‘Hawks have dropped three of their last four games (their only win came in a shootout victory over Dallas).

Now, they’ll have an opportunity to get back on track against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Penguins are having issues of their own, and it’s mostly injury-related.

Pittsburgh has been without Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta and Ron Hainsey, and it’s clearly affected their play.

There’s a bit of good news on the injury front. Conor Sheary, who suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday, is expected to play tonight.

Malkin was able to skate on his own on Tuesday, and head coach Mike Sullivan hopes to get him back soon.

“Our medical staff has a good handle on it,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “He’s going through a process both on and off the ice. He skated this morning, and he’s making progress, so we’re encouraged and we’re hopeful we’ll get him back sooner than later.”

Coming into tonight’s game, the Penguins have dropped three in a row to the Senators (shootout), Islanders (shootout) and Flyers.

The Pens aren’t in any danger of missing the playoffs, but they’re still battling for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Columbus’ win over Buffalo pushed them two points ahead of the Penguins (both have played 75 games). The Jackets also have four more regulation/overtime wins.

The Capitals, who beat Minnesota last night, are three points up on Columbus and five points up on Pittsburgh.

PHT Morning Skate: Joel Armia scored an amazing shorthanded goal you’ll have to see to believe

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Joel Armia has developed into a very useful player for the Winnipeg Jets, and on Tuesday night, he scored an incredible end-to-end goal that you won’t want to miss. He fought off one New Jersey Devil then got around two others before scoring this beautiful shorthanded goal. (Top)

–The Score breaks down the best “bang for your buck” contracts on each Canadian team. It’s not shocking to see Senators goalie Mike Condon on this list. The second-year netminder has been with three teams this season, but he’s come through in a big way for the Senators, and he only makes $575,000. (The Score)

–The ESPN Hockey writers put together a list of what they think the Vegas Golden Knights roster is going to look like after the expansion draft. Some well-known names like Andrew Cogliano, Jonas Brodin, Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Plekanec, Jonathan Marchessault, Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg all made the list. (ESPN)

–Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog touched on some advice David Poile had for the Golden Knights now that the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Vegas. “You have to do your own thing. We created our ‘Predator Way.’ The Smashville idea and name. In-game entertainment fitting the market. Those things worked.” Friedman also wrote about Ken Hitchcock possibly returning to Dallas, and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Brampton Thunder forward Laura Stacey is the great-granddaughter of hall-of-fame defenseman King Clancy. Recently, Stacey decided she wanted to do a little digging into her great-grandfather’s career, and it really allowed her to get an appreciation for everything he accomplished. “Now I understand how hard he worked, how passionate and determined he was to be the best. Yes, it was a different era, but I can only imagine how hard he had to work to get where he was. As I get older, it makes it more special in that I know more the kind of guy he was.” (Canadian Press)

–The Montreal Canadiens have had some incredible defensemen come through their organization, but last night, Andrei Markov was able to reach an impressive milestone. By picking up an assist in a 4-1 win over Dallas, he tied Guy Lapointe for second in points by a defenseman in franchise history. Larry Robinson’s mark is pretty safe.