The 31-year-old Johnson, who was traded from the Los Angeles Kings to Columbus six years ago next month, had been one of the team’s more relied-upon defenders, but this year things changed. He was leap-frogged on the depth chart and saw his minutes drop from the nearly 25 per night to 19:25. During Thursday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres, he played just 13:43, his lowest of the the 2017-18 NHL season.
All parties involved — Johnson, his agent, Pat Brisson, and Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen — declined comment.
So why now? Johnson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, isn’t unhappy, per Portzline, and would not have asked out if he was signed beyond this season.
But Johnson, who turns 31 on Saturday, is feeling enormous pressure to sign a multiyear contract when he hits unrestricted free agency July 1.
His well-publicized bankruptcy four years ago has cut sharply into his life savings, such that Johnson will need his next contract — and perhaps another one after that — to set up him and his family for the years after his career.
“He doesn’t have the nest egg that most 12-year NHL veterans would have, obviously,” the source said.
Per the bankruptcy settler, Johnson was granted $246,000 for “living expenses” this season and last. Over the next three years, he’ll keep $277,050.50 until the creditors are satisfied. But here’s where his next contract comes into play. Four of his creditors will take 10 percent of his future earnings if the next contract he signs is more than $4.5 million over a three-year span, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
A better situation coupled with better play would help Johnson build that “nest egg” through free agency this summer.
Who could Johnson help? Well, some team looking to help their depth might be interested, and while the blue liners is famous for his poor career possession stats, he can chip in offensively. In 45 games this season, he has two goals and seven points. He scored 11 goals over the last two seasons.
There are a number of other defenseman out there who could better serve teams this season as rentals — Mike Green, Cody Franson, to name two — but considering Johnson’s situation and play, he might be able to be had on the cheap.
UPDATE: Here’s what Kekalainen had to say about the report, via the Columbus Dispatch:
“It’s the same with him as anyone else on our team: We’ll make a trade if and when we have something that makes sense for the Blue Jackets.”