The Pittsburgh Penguins were relatively quiet when free agency began on July 1.
The Pittsburgh Penguins most notable signing was that of blueliner Jack Johnson from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Johnson, 31, inked a five-year deal averaging $3.25 million per year. The Penguins desperately need more defense, but the signing of Johnson received mixed reviews in the media. But is the negative response to this signing really warranted?
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In his last year with the Blue Jackets, the 6’1”, 227 lb. defenseman put up 3 goals and 11 assists in 77 games. However, Johnson is a stay-at-home defenseman; the Penguins didn’t sign him to put up points. And even though he hasn’t been a big point-getter in the past, Johnson’s greatest offensive skill is his ability to quickly get the puck up the ice, and his points will improve when he’s passing to forwards like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Admittedly, Johnson played far below his usual standard last year; he ended the year as a minus-six. But in the 2016-17 season, Johnson had five goals and 23 points in 82 games, and was a plus-23. And while Johnson’s career plus-minus is minus-109, it should be noted that Johnson has spent his entire career so far playing with the Los Angeles Kings—years before they won the Stanley Cup—and the Blue Jackets, who have never won a Cup or even made it past the first round of the playoffs. Johnson was in the top 50 in the league in blocked shots last year with 135, which was better than any Penguins’ defensemen. (The closest was Brian Dumoulin with 132.)
Johnson’s previous contract was a seven-year deal worth a total of $30.5 million; his cap hit was $4.35. This means that Johnson’s making roughly a million dollars less with the Penguins than he did last year. And while $3.25 might sound steep, it’s far from pricey. Of the Penguins’ blueliners, only Chad Ruhwedel will be earning less than Johnson.
Additionally, other comparable defensemen on the market this offseason signed for more. Calvin de Haan signed with the Carolina Hurricanes for an annual cap hit of $4.5 million; former Penguin Ian Cole will have a cap hit of $4.25 million with his new team, the Colorado Avalanche. Both de Haan and Cole have slightly better numbers than Johnson in the past season or two, but not enough to warrant making a million dollars more. And for the record, while Kris Letang makes the most of all Penguins defensemen at $7.25 million per year, his plus-minus last year was worse than Johnson’s (minus-nine).
The Penguins need more defense, and they got it in the form of former United States Olympian Johnson. He’s a solid, stay-at-home, shot-blocking defenseman, and the Pens need more players like that. Johnson also comes at a good price, making less than many defensemen who were on the market and less than he made on his previous contract. So don’t write off the Johnson signing as a bad one just yet—he’s exactly what the Penguins wanted this offseason, and he comes at a bargain price.