Getty

The Penguins’ reported interest in Jack Johnson is baffling

30 Comments

On Wednesday the Pittsburgh Penguins cleared a significant amount of salary cap space over the next two years by sending forward Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick to the Buffalo Sabres for a draft pick.

That trade, combined with the bump to the league-wide cap ceiling for 2018, has given the Penguins more than $10 million in salary cap space to work with this summer. Only needing to re-sign Jamie Oleksiak and Riley Sheahan, that newfound cap space gives them plenty of options in free agency or the trade market and could make them contenders for a number of impact players. It also helped them correct what was a pretty significant mistake in last summer’s free agent signing period when gave Hunwick a three-year contract that paid him more than $2 million per season. It became apparent very early in the season that Hunwick and the Penguins were not a great match as the veteran struggled throughout much of the season and eventually found himself as a healthy scratch.

That signing not working out — and the ensuing trade — is just one of the reasons Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is looking to upgrade the team’s blue line this summer.

[Related: Penguins ship Hunwick, Sheary to Buffalo in cap-clearing trade]

One player the team seems to be targeting in free agency: Former Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson.

Over the past couple of weeks there has been plenty of smoke surrounding the Penguins and Johnson with both Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Aaron Portzline of The Athletic reporting that the two sides could be a possible match. On Wednesday there seemed to be a little more fuel thrown on that fire when reports began to surface out of Pittsburgh that Johnson could be joining the Penguins on Sunday when the free agent signing period officially begins.

According to Mackey, the Penguins intend to sign Johnson to a five-year (five-year!) contract on Sunday for a dollar amount that could be in the $3-3.5 million range. Mark Madden of 105.9 the X, the Penguins’ flagship radio station, first reported the five-year term.

Assuming all of this plays out this would be a pretty bizarre series of events for the Penguins.

For one, even though the reported contract numbers would represent a sharp reduction in salary from Johnson’s previous contract, that is still a significant amount of money for a team that is perpetually pressed against the league’s salary cap ceiling. Especially for a player that is 31 years old (and will turn 32 during the season), coming off of a career-worst year offensively, and whose season ended with him being a healthy scratch on a fringe playoff team that was bounced in the first round.

None of that should sound encouraging.

Johnson entered the NHL more than a decade ago with much fanfare. He was the third player selected in the Sidney Crosby draft (behind Crosby and Bobby Ryan) and that pre-draft hype has followed him around for most of his career, at least in the sense that hockey people seem to love him no matter how much evidence there is to suggest that he isn’t as good as they thought he was going to be.

Objectively speaking the numbers are ugly.

Since entering the NHL in 2006-07 Johnson’s minus-109 mark is the worst among all NHL players.

Flawed as plus/minus is, when you are talking about more than a decades worth of data, and also taking into account that Johnson has played on some pretty good teams during his career, there should be cause for concern that he has finished as a plus-player just once in his career. He has been minus-5 or worse in every other season. Six times he has finished as a minus-12 or worse.

From a shots perspective things are just as bad.

Since the start of the 2006-07 season (Johnson’s debut year) there have been more than 356 defensemen that have played at least 100 games in the NHL. Johnson’s 48 percent Corsi rating is 275th out of that group.

Just looking at the past five years his 47.9 mark is 204th out of 259 defenders.

In other words: When Jack Johnson is on the ice his team is getting badly outshot and badly outscored. That is a terrible combination.

So why in the world are the Penguins interested in this?

They obviously need some additional help on the blue line and definitely need some additional depth. But is this the best way to get it? Is this the best allocation of resources?

In recent years the Penguins have had some success taking on reclamation projects on defense and getting more out of them than other teams have been able to with the additions of Trevor Daley, Justin Schultz, and most recently Jamie Oleksiak.

But none of those players required the type of immediate commitment they would be giving Johnson. All of them were originally acquired for minimal assets (Daley was acquired for Rob Scuderi, while Schultz and Oleksiak were acquired for mid-round draft picks). The other factor: Schultz and Oleksiak were both in their age 25 seasons when they were acquired and had at least shown flashes that they had more to offer in the right setting. Johnson, again, will turn 32 years old this season. What we have seen from him at this point in his career is a pretty good indication that this is what he is as a player. And if you’re looking for a potential player to “fix,” that is a huge commitment for a question mark.

There is nothing wrong with a team wanting to sign Jack Johnson in free agency. Yes, his entire career he has been woefully miscast as a top-pairing defenseman and has consistently shown he is probably not suited for that role.

But in the right setting, on the right contract, in the right role, there might be some value for a team to find. Based on every piece of evidence we have to look at throughout Johnson’s career, the right contract and the right role is not a five-year commitment for an apparent top-four role on a cap-strapped team.

Rutherford is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and has made some fantastic trades/transactions during his time in Pittsburgh. But he is not invincible. He is not immune to mistakes, as evidence by the fact that literally every addition he made last summer has already been jettisoned by the Penguins. If they actually go through with a five-year, $16 million contract for Johnson with the hopes of playing him in a top-four role it would not be a shock to see them trying to get out of that contract before it expires as well.

More NHL Free Agency:
PHT Power Rankings: The top-20 NHL Free Agents
• Ilya Kovalchuk, Kings agree to terms on three-year deal
• John Carlson gets $64 million payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Miller, Ducks win again; Josi on a tear

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three stars

1. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

A night after becoming the winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history, Miller produced a fantastic performance in a 31-save shutout against the Minnesota Wild.

The shutout was Miller’s first of the season and 44th of his career. The Ducks have now won two straight and are three points back of the Wild for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Wild, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight, including their second straight game being banished from the scoresheet. The Ducks are faring well without John Gibson.

2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators 

Josi scored twice in the third period, including the game-winner, and added an assist in the game for a three-point night

The elite defenseman now has four goals and 11 points in his past eight games for the Predators, who needed a win after going 1-3-1 over their past five games.

The Preds are now just a point back of the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division although Winnipeg has three games in hand.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau scored twice and added an assist in a 4-2 win for the Panthers against the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Huberdeau hadn’t scored in eight games prior to Tuesday’s contest and had just one goal in his previous 14.

Florida is nine points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights of the night

Barkov with another dirty move:

Windmill:

Broke all the ankles:

Factoids

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1098065651539865601

Scores

Panthers 4, Sabres 2
Penguins 4, Devils 3
Lightning 5, Flyers 2
Rangers 2, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 2
Blues 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)
Ducks 4, Wild 0
Predators 5, Stars 3
Coyotes 3, Oilers 2 (SO)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck=

O’Reilly scores historic overtime winner as Blues win 11th straight

1 Comment

And then it was 11.

The St. Louis Blues set a new team record for consecutive wins in emphatic fashion when Ryan O'Reilly went bar down on Frederik Anderson 34 seconds into overtime to down the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on NBCSN on Tuesday.

Mitch Marner came rushing in just before it by Colton Parayko was able to fend him off. O’Reilly was there to intercept Marner’s attempt at a centering pass and it was off to the races for No. 90, who scored his 26th of the season to extend St. Louis’ remarkable streak.

The Blues came into the game riding a three-game shutout streak — because beating teams simply wasn’t enough anymore. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period care of goals from Jaden Schwartz and Parayko.

The game appeared to be heading toward another blank sheet after two periods, but a bad giveaway by Alex Pietrangelo led to Zach Hyman‘s weird angle shot turning into an own goal and bringing an end to the shutout streak at a 2:33:50.

The Leafs were mostly lifeless through the first two periods but Hyman’s goal seemed to be the jolt they needed.

Auston Matthews bagged his 28th of the season just 31 seconds later to tie the game. St. Louis challenged for (non-existent) goaltender interference and the call of a good goal on the ice was upheld.

Jordan Binnington entered the game already having set a Blues rookie record with eight straight wins, including shutouts in his past two outings. ‘Winnington’ could do little on the own goal and Matthews’ goal came off a rebound in front that he couldn’t get to. He managed to stop 31-of-33 shots to extend that record to nine straight.

His personal shutout streak ended at 173:50.

The Blues haven’t trailed in a game since Feb. 5. They were in last place on Jan. 3 but are now six points up on Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division. What a turnaround.

Meanwhile, a massive open-ice hit that Vince Dunn delivered priority mail to Nazem Kadri seems to have put the latter on the shelf.

Dunn drilled Kadri at the 8:48 mark of the first period, but Kadri stayed in the game. He took another shot, this time more of a glancing blow from Brayden Schenn, who had Toronto’s No. 43 in his crosshairs before missing at the last second.

Kadri did not emerge after the first intermission and was ruled out with a concussion not long after.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

‘Puddy’ bobblehead night includes Puddy face-plant into Devils bench

MSG
3 Comments

Everything was going great for David Puddy at his Bobblehead Night in New Jersey on Tuesday.

‘Puddy’ (actor Patrick Warburton), the legendary face-painted Devils fan from the hit TV show Seinfeld, known for such lines as, ‘We’re the Devils… The Devils’ and ‘Don’t mess with the Devils. We can beat anybody,’ was back inside Prudential Center to rile up the crowd once again.

He dropped the puck during the pre-game ceremony and then proceeded to take his jersey off to rile up the Devils faithful.

And then the Puddy Plant happened:

Puddy handled it like a champ, getting up with an embarrassed smile on his face before a quick bow.

The first 9,000 fans into the arena got their hands on one of these bad boys.

As far as bobbleheads go, this one was pretty cool.

Last April, Puddy made an unexpected visit to New Jersey to cheer on the Devils in their playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Matt Duchene era likely over in Ottawa, but what of Mark Stone?

Getty Images
2 Comments

It appears Matt Duchene‘s days as an Ottawa Senator are numbered.

The dynamic forward will be held out of Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils as the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline looms in the close horizon, a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger suggested on Tuesday.

Duchene was brought to the club just last season in a blockbuster three-team deal that saw the Senators ship out Kyle Turris to Nashville and send their first-round pick in the coming 2019 NHL Draft to Colorado, among other pieces.

Duchene struggled out of the gate but regained his form toward the end of the year, the only problem is Ottawa didn’t turn out to be the winner that Duchene wanted to go to. The Senators missed the playoffs a year after reaching the Eastern Conference Final. They then dealt Erik Karlsson in September, and this season has been a horror show ever since — sometimes with Duchene front and center.

Now the Senators, the worst team in the NHL, are poised to not only not have Duchene, but also not have what could very likely be the first-overall pick in June. The Avalanche, meanwhile, could theoretically have two picks in the top 10 (and even top five if they continue to free fall).

It’s been some year in Ottawa, and it’s not over yet.

With Duchene seemingly out of the picture, the Senators have gone full bore at trying to re-sign Mark Stone. Losing one is bad enough. Losing both? It’s doubtful that ‘Senators’ and ‘contender’ will reach the lofty goal set out by owner Eugene Melnyk earlier this month.

And Ryan Dzingel‘s name has been floated around, too.

The 22-goal, 44-point man sits fourth in team scoring this year, with Stone (62 points) and Duchene (58 points) holding down the 1-2 spots. In a worst-case scenario, the team could be without three of its fourth top scorers and its three top-scoring forwards by 3 p.m. ET on Monday.

Bruce Garrioch from the Ottawa Citizen said the team’s most recent offer is thought to be “serious and comprehensive,” leading to Stone’s camp asking for time to ponder it. Garrioch said it’s likely Stone would be the team’s next captain and it’s centerpiece to build around.

Stone is reportedly wanted by several teams, including the Winnipeg Jets in Stone’s hometown.

If Stone, 26, signs a long-term deal in Ottawa, then he’s going to have to buy into Melnyk’s plan and the plans of general manager Pierre Doiron. The Senators have some decent prospects in their system. If they can find a stud goalie down in short order, perhaps them being in the playoff conversation isn’t all that far off.

But the temptation to have his pick of the litter come July 1st has to be haunting Stone at the moment. The thought of signing long-term in Winnipeg and winning a Stanley Cup for the city he grew up has to be playing heavily on his mind. But really, insert any contender here will to fork out the money, and there’s certainly a few of them.

Stone not being held out of the lineup, like Duchene, may be a good sign at the moment, but there are still 48 hours between now and Ottawa’s game. Things could change in an instant.

We’re down to days and hours until the trade deadline, so the first shoe dropping can’t be all that far off.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck