For some reason, unbeknownst to the team of scientists working around the clock trying to figure it out, Jim Rutherford decided that Jack Johnson was worth signing to a 5 year deal with an AAV of $3.25M. The same Jack Johnson that has perennially failed to live up to his draft position of 3rd overall in the 2005 Draft — just two spots after Sidney Crosby.
Never in his entire 13-year career has his Corsi percentage been at 50% or above. The closest he got was in 2011-12 when he was at 50% in L.A. before being traded to Columbus. This year his Corsi Relative is at -6.5%, meaning the team controls possession through shot differential 6.5% better when he’s not on the ice. That’s a huge number.
He’s not fleet of foot and his game is an archaic throwback to the early 2010’s, at best, compared to the modern speed game employed by defensemen in 2018.
Not to the surprise of this writer and not to the surprise of many other writers and fans, Jack Johnson has been horrible this season. If you like good old-fashioned plus/minus, he’s a -12 through just 26 games. If you prefer Corsi, his 45.9% would be the lowest of any full-season he’s played.
But have no fear, dear reader, for I’m about to present you with three ways the Pens can escape this albatross.
Bury Him In The Minors
Last year, the Montreal Canadiens signed Karl Alzner to a 5 year/$23.125M contract ($4.625M cap hit). Alzner was pretty good with the Capitals, but the Canadiens were desperate to boost their blue line, so they overpaid in term and dollars. He was not great last year with only 12 points and a sub-50% Corsi and a plus/minus of -7.
But amazingly after a slow start this year, GM Marc Bergevin admitted he made a mistake and waived Alzner. Of course no one bit on that worm, so Alzner will now be most likely spending the better part of the next four years playing for the Laval Rocket, the minor league affiliate of the Canadiens and a suburb of Montreal.
The Canadiens get a modicum of cap relief for a buried contract, for this year it is $1.025M, and then the remainder sits on the cap. But something is something and a roster spot is now freed. If the Pens did this with Johnson next year, they’d save $1.075M and still eat $2.175M for the next four seasons.
The 2021 Expansion Draft
The Seattle NHL Team (Nirvana? Grinders? Kraken?) will be starting play in 2021, so in June 2021 there will be another expansion draft. Without getting too far ahead of things, the Pens have a lot of players on No Movement Clauses that can’t be drafted, unless they agree to waive it like Fleury did for Vegas.
One player that does not have one is Jack Johnson. If the Penguins appended a 2nd round draft pick to Johnson, Seattle’s GM could probably be convinced to take him for salary floor purposes.
Compliance Buyout In New CBA
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL Players Association and the NHL runs through the 2021-22 season. However, both sides have the option of opting out next September, meaning the CBA could expire after the Cup is raised is 2020.
New negotiations will be contentious and there’s strong rumors that another lockout could jeopardize the 2020-2021 season, hence a good part of the reason Seattle will be starting in 2021.
But if the CBA is similar to the last one signed in 2013, there will be compliance buyouts. Think of these like Get Out of Jail Free cards for GMs. A compliance buyout allows a team to get rid of a contract for cap purposes (they still have to pay the player 2/3 of his money, stretched out over double the length of remaining deal).
So if the 2021 season is played and Jack Johnson is bought out, the Pens would have to pay $2.1M of real money to Johnson for the next four years, but his $3.25M cap hit would vanish.
We’ll all have to suffer through Johnson this year, but maybe in 2019 or perhaps one of two ways in 2021, Johnson will be off the Penguins roster. I mean, it’s not like any team would actually trade for him. Right?