Friday, February 24, 2012

Johnson Acquisition Adds Confusion to Defensive Structure

In one of the worst kept secrets of Scott Howson's trading career, Jeff Carter was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings last night for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first round pick.  If the Kings make the playoffs this year, the Blue Jackets have the option of taking Los Angeles' first round pick for either the 2012 or 2013 draft.  If the Kings fail to make the playoffs, Columbus will receive the 2013 first round pick.

In terms of player value, it is reasonably close to fair market value, especially when you factor in the supposed problems between Columbus and Carter.  Johnson is signed through the 2017/2018 season at a cap hit of 4.357 million, which is comparable to Fedor Tyutin's extension at 4.5 million during the same time period.  He has a strong offensive upside and shows quality puck possession skills.  His numbers also give him the appearance of a solid powerplay quarterback. Here are some quick stats from this year:

Games Played :: 61
Goals :: 8
Assists :: 16
Points :: 24
Plus/Minus :: -12
Penalty Minutes :: 24
Shots on Goal :: 120
Shooting Percentage :: 6.7
Powerplay Goals :: 5
Powerplay Assists :: 9
Average TOI :: 22:31

These numbers are telling of quite a few things.  He will be a strong offensive addition to the blueline, with his eight goals four better than the next best Blue Jacket defenseman.  He can log lots of minutes and can really produce on the powerplay.  On the other side of the coin, his -12 was -4 worse than anyone else on the Kings, and he has only managed ten points at even strength (3 goals - 7 assists) which is an immediate concern to me.  I have also read a number of reports that suggest his +/- over the last number of seasons is very poor in league comparison, and his CORSI rating over the last four years has been at the bottom of the Kings defensive core consistently.

Beyond his statistics, one of his major assets is his compete level, which I feel has usually been very high. He seems to have a lot of passion for the game, and I certainly expect to see Howson bring in more guys like him before the start of next season.  If this move had something to do with changing the attitude in the locker room, many will argue the Blue Jackets won big time.  On top of that, Johnson wasted no time saying he was excited to play for a team that wants him on the roster, and I am sure the fans will welcome that enthusiasm in the wake of all the Carter speculation.

What I believe to be the more strange part of this trade, is how similar Johnson's game is to current Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski.  I personally believe a glaring need in Columbus is a quality defensive minded defenseman who can either play in, or have the upside to play in the top defensive slot alongside one of John Moore (eventually) or James Wisniewski.  What we acquired instead, was another top four player with some suggested potential to be a top tier defenseman, but more often than not the defined qualities of a top four player who needs to be protected by his playing partner to avoid being scored on.

It makes me really wonder what the plan is for Columbus during the next couple months.  It would surprise me to see this current defensive lineup (with the inclusion of Johnson) show up untouched in late September, and with that, I have a hard time pondering who is more inclined to be moved.  Certainly Methot is serviceable as the teams lone top four defensive defenseman, leading me to think Tyutin may be playing his last season with the team.

Further, I really struggle to figure out where John Moore fits into the mix, whether he is expected to modify his game to play atop the roster with Wisniewski, or whether he will continue to build on what I happily define as the "Moorethot"experience.  In either case, there are definitely decisions that need to be made regarding the logical defensive structure of the Blue Jackets for next season, and I believe that adding a player of Johnson's style only compounds that problem.

I am going to hold off full judgement of Johnson as a player until such time that I get to watch him play in Columbus, and I am excited to use the final twenty games of the season to get a good read on his abilities.  I am going to do the same with Scott Howson at least until the deadline, possibly even beyond the free agency period to see what kind of plan he has and how it will impact the roster in the short term.  As someone who believed that Carter needed time more than he needed a change of scenery to get over his Philly experience, I am not pleased to see him go.  As noted however, I believe Howson etc have a plan, and I eagerly await the the next piece to fall into place.

Carry the Flag.

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