With the trade deadline approaching, we will be profiling several players in the weeks ahead that have a good chance to be dealt by February 26th.
After a public bankruptcy case and a diminishing role with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jack Johnson requested a trade. He felt backed into a corner, and needed to act to ensure financial stability for his family after his player career ends. Since news of the request broke, Johnson’s ice time has once again increased. Will the Blue Jackets move him somewhere else, or give him the important minutes he needs to showcase for his next contract?
Johnson is in the final season of a seven-year, $30.5MM contract—$4.36MM cap hit, $5.0MM salary. He will be a UFA in July, and holds no trade protection.
With the increased roles of young defensemen Zach Werenski, Seth Jones and Markus Nutivaara, Johnson has seen his impact on the Blue Jackets decrease in his final year under contract. Once a powerplay quarterback and perennial 30-40 point producer, the 31-year old has been limited to defensive specialist and penalty killer for nearly two seasons. His offensive production this season has been non-existent, with only seven points through 50 games.
Tough matchups and starting nearly 60% of his shifts in the defensive zone are part of the explanation for that lack of production, but so is a normal decline in mobility and explosiveness as he navigates his thirties. He’s turned into a solid penalty killing option for the Blue Jackets, and has astoundingly taken just four minor penalties all season. There is clearly still a role for Johnson in the NHL, but with other more dynamic offensive talents on the market like Mike Green, it will be hard for him to secure an opportunity better than the one he still enjoys in Columbus.
50 GP, 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points, -7 rating, 8 PIM, 61 shots, 19:35 ATOI, 45.9 CF%
There is never a shortage of teams looking for experienced help on the blue line as the stretch run approaches, and Johnson’s name will certainly be among those that draw inquiries. Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Washington, and the New York Islanders could all fit Johnson in under the right circumstances, though it’s not clear if any have reached out at this point.
One fit that does seem to stick out is that of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been looking for defensive help for some time. Though Travis Dermott’s debut has gone well to this point, their depth at the position is still razor thin as showcased when Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev were both out of the lineup. If the Maple Leafs decide to acquire another veteran option, Johnson could stick out as a possibility. The defenseman’s handedness (left) doesn’t help him in this scenario, but with the ability of Rielly, Dermott and Ron Hainsey to play their off-side, Mike Babcock would still have plenty of options.
Likelihood Of A Trade
A few weeks ago a trade seemed like an inevitability in the case of Johnson, who was struggling on the ice and seeing the bench more than ever before. Now though, a move doesn’t seem quite as certain. Every team needs depth on defense, and Columbus are in an absolute dog fight for the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division. With Ryan Murray—a trade candidate himself—still fighting to get back from injury, Johnson is needed to soak up minutes on the PK and shelter some of the more offensive options the Blue Jackets have.
It wouldn’t at all be surprising to see him on another team come February 26th, but it is far from certain. If the Blue Jackets decide that they’re going for it this season, and can’t find a deal for the top-nine forward they desperately want, holding onto Johnson could be the best option. Though he doesn’t come with much playoff experience, he does come with incredible success. In 23 postseason contests, Johnson has 21 points and logged a whopping 26 minutes a night last playoffs for the Blue Jackets.
Including Pittsburgh as an example from last season, the playoffs can grind through a defense corps and put you on your seventh, eighth or ninth option quickly. If there isn’t a deal for a forward to be found, maybe Johnson will have to prove himself once again in Columbus.
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