Jack Johnson asked to be traded a month ago and although a deal has yet to transpire, he should get his wish ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
As a pending unrestricted free agent, it seems inevitable that the Columbus Blue Jackets will move Johnson somewhere, anywhere, within the next couple weeks. Jarmo Kekalainen is trying to accommodate his request and there should be a market for Johnson amongst playoff-bound teams seeking a reliable veteran defenceman that can eat up minutes in a variety of roles.
Columbus might be awaiting the return of Ryan Murray from injury, but it’s only a matter of time until Johnson is shipped out since the Blue Jackets have no intention of re-signing him.
Mike Green is the big fish in the defence pool — in terms of UFAs — but Johnson would bolster any team’s blue line despite having a down year and only producing seven points, with two goals, through 54 games this season.
Johnson has twice reached the 40-point plateau, but he’s been cast as more of a shutdown type in Columbus with the emergence of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. As a result, Johnson’s offensive contributions have been trending down, but he’s still a well-rounded defender.
So who’s interested in Johnson? Good question. With Green, it was rather obvious that Washington would be a frontrunner. With Johnson, that direct line can’t be drawn, but here are three potential suitors.
1) Minnesota Wild
There is a glaring hole in Minnesota’s top-four because of the injury to Jonas Brodin, who will miss upwards of a month after undergoing hand surgery. Chuck Fletcher made a minor move this week to acquire Viktor Loov from New Jersey, but the Wild are icing a bottom-three of Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser or perhaps Loov now.
That’s not good, and granted the top-three of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba are capable of being workhorses in Brodin’s absence, but the Wild are going to need a bigger band-aid than Loov.
Johnson would be a good complement to Dumba until Brodin gets back, then Johnson could anchor the third pairing with any of those other four in Olofsson, Reilly, Prosser or Loov. There is no such thing as too much depth down the stretch.
As I mentioned on Insider Trading, I think the Blue Jackets know they can get a late first round pick for Jack Johnson … but they want a forward… do they take the pick and make a separate deal for a forward? Interesting decisions lie ahead of Feb. 26
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 8, 2018
The asking price on Johnson shouldn’t be higher than a second- or third-round draft pick and a decent prospect, but a bidding war could drive up his value — some think it will take a first-rounder for Columbus to move Johnson. There is also a belief that the Blue Jackets would prefer to do a hockey deal, swapping Johnson for a forward — preferably a centre.
Columbus would love to get Charlie Coyle in a 1-for-1, but that seems unlikely since the Wild have been reluctant to move him in the past. Something around Johnson and Boone Jenner for Coyle could be a starting point for a blockbuster if Fletcher is willing to entertain that idea.
Minnesota has its first-round pick for 2018 but no second-rounder, though the Wild do have three darts for the third round, including Buffalo’s early selection. These expansion siblings should be able to pull something off.
2) St. Louis Blues
Another defence buyer necessitated by injury, the Blues lost Joel Edmundson for at least six weeks with a broken forearm. St. Louis has more depth from within, but Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson aren’t the same players they were a decade ago — or even a couple years ago.
Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko will continue to do the heavy lifting there, with Vince Dunn likely to get an increased role as well. But Johnson would really round out that blue line and could fill in nicely for Edmundson.
The Blues would probably favour a futures package involving a defence prospect like Jordan Schmaltz or Jake Walman, and perhaps their 2018 second-rounder if need be. As a hockey deal, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka might be of interest to Columbus, but neither of them are expendable for St. Louis. Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin and maybe Tage Thompson could enter the conversation.
If Doug Armstrong decides he wants Johnson, he should be able to get him. But the Blues may bide their time for another week or two to see how badly they need Johnson.
3) Philadelphia Flyers
Lots of options for a third suitor, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, though it sounds like Steve Yzerman is targeting the bigger names like Green, Ryan McDonagh or perhaps even Erik Karlsson.
Washington is another possibility if Green goes elsewhere. Toronto, New Jersey, Boston, Colorado and Dallas could also be considering Johnson, along with Pittsburgh — Johnson is a close friend of Sidney Crosby from their younger years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s — but the Blue Jackets probably won’t want to help the Penguins in their quest to three-peat.
If Chicago is still going for it, Johnson could be a fit for the Blackhawks too. The New York Islanders might look at him as well, and don’t rule out Detroit in a sign-and-trade scenario if Johnson wants to circle back to Michigan where he went to college.
However, Philadelphia is holding down a playoff spot as of today and Ron Hextall should be shopping for a defenceman. Johnson would be a solid No. 3 for the Flyers — behind Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov but ahead of Radko Gudas, Andrew McDonald, Robert Hagg and Brandon Manning.
Columbus is still very much in the playoff race, albeit fading lately, so a hockey deal between division rivals could be in the cards. The Flyers could seemingly offer Valtteri Filppula — also a pending UFA — straight up for Johnson. That would be a fair swap, but Philadelphia has Jori Lehtera and Scott Laughton as pivots of possible interest too. The latter two would require some sort of sweetener for the Blue Jackets.
Philadelphia is loaded with picks — a whopping 10 for the 2018 draft, including two firsts, two fifths and two sevenths. Hextall could cash in some of those chips for Johnson, assuming he doesn’t want to part with Travis Sanheim or Sam Morin. The Flyers have the assets to get this deal done if the Blue Jackets aren’t opposed to trading Johnson within the division.
Well, what do you think — where will Johnson be going? Minnesota, St. Louis, Philadelphia or somewhere else?
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.