Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Yes, Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin have taken defensemen who struggled elsewhere, rehabilitated them and turned them into productive Pittsburgh Penguins. The track record is there, which probably played a part in the thinking to sign Jack Johnson on July 1.
But the five-year term was the head-scratcher. The 31-year-old Johnson has an offensive side to him, but it’s declined over the last few seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets. An off-the-ice financial issue with the parents certainly was a distraction, but still… that term.
Johnson’s fancy stats have been downright ugly, making him a target of the analytical community. Our Adam Gretz laid it out in June:
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.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who drafted Johnson in 2005 and traded him a year later while with the Carolina Hurricanes, isn’t worried.
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“None of this is foolproof,” Rutherford said after the signing. “As humans watching players, we make mistakes on them sometimes, and the analytics are not always accurate. But we’re very comfortable Jack is going to help our team.”
If the move doesn’t work out and the Penguins can’t turnaround another defenseman’s career, then that term is going to come up. If Johnson’s deal was for one or two years you can call it a lottery ticket. Five years, though? That could be an hindrance, especially for a possible third pairing defenseman, for a team that’s always having to maneuver around the salary cap ceiling limits in order to be a contender every season.
MORE: Penguins once again enrage Tortorella, this time because of Jack Johnson
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.