“Jack Johnson, I think had a decent year this year. He’s a nice third-pairing defenseman,” former Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said in his introductory press conference as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new assistant coach on September 2.
Thirty-three days later, Johnson was bought out by the Penguins.
The Penguins buried the news that Johnson was put on waivers in a press release Monday morning where they announced offering qualifying offers to five players.
Defenseman Jack Johnson has also been placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout.
Johnson had three years left on his current deal, meaning the Penguins will absorb a cap hit for the next six seasons. Pittsburgh clears just over two million in cap space with the move.
With 3 years remaining Jack Johnson's contract, a buyout will span 6 years. The buyout details are as follows:
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) October 5, 2020
After being eliminated by the Capitals in the 2018 playoffs (the Caps went on to become champions), GM Jim Rutherford aggressively signed Johnson to a five-year, $16.25 contract on the first day of free agency that raised a lot of eyebrows.
He only lasted two seasons in the Burgh. Johnson struggled mightily during the 2019-20 season. Among 177 defensemen who had over 600 minutes of five-on-five ice time last season, Johnson had the 147th worst shot attempts percentage at 5v5 according to Natural Stat Trick.
His play is even more concerning when you view his heat map. Johnson was a black hole in front of the net. (Dark red means he gives up way more chances relative to other defensemen.)
But it was the Penguins’ defense of Johnson in the media ahead of the move that is even more head-scratching. Since the Penguins were eliminated in the play-in round of the 2020 playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens, the team has bent over backward to deflect criticism from Johnson.
Check out this wild timeline.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford to Penguins media, August 11:
Well, [the defense] could have been better. I know everybody picks on Jack [Johnson] and they have for a long time, but I think, in that pairing, Justin Schultz had a lot more to give.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford to the Athletic, August 20:
His contract is not a problem for us. His contract isn’t going to impact anything that we do in terms of the cap.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford to Penguins media, August 26:
I think [Johnson]’s a solid third-pairing defenseman. He kills penalties well for us. He blocks shots. He’s heavy down low. He’s one of the few heavy guys we’ve got. I think that’s he’s a lightning rod here. He gets criticized when it’s not necessarily his fault. Now, I’m not suggesting he’s the perfect player. Not many third pairing defensemen are. But what I’m suggesting is that’s it’s unfair. The criticism of him is a little over the top based on how he’s played when some of the times that he’s being criticized, when it was actually somebody else’s doing.
Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman, August 31:
I don’t know that Jack Johnson is available. I don’t know that he is. I think that Rutherford seems to believe in this guy. He really backed him in a huge, huge way. I don’t think he’s going anywhere. I don’t think it’s a contract you can move right now.
Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden to Penguins media, September 2:
Jack Johnson, I think he had a decent year this year. He’s a nice third-pairing defenseman.
Johnson’s days were numbered after the Penguins acquired Mike Matheson from the Florida Panthers for Patric Hornqvist in late September, giving the team a glut of left shooting defensemen.
If unclaimed, Johnson will become an unrestricted free agent on September 9.
Screenshot courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.