Boston Bruins Notes: B’s Add Depth Defenseman, Aaron Johnson

P.J. Axelsson, former member of the Boston Bruins. (Dan4th/flickr)

On Wednesday, the Boston Bruins announced the signing of defenseman Aaron Johnson to a one-year, two-way deal. Johnson spent last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets – where he set career-highs with thirteen assists and sixteen points in just 56 games.

Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but like the Garnet Exelby signing a week earlier, this adds to the NHL-capable depth on defense for the Bruins.

A fairly disciplined player (certainly not a pugilist); the 6’2, 210-pound defenseman has only dropped the gloves eight times in nine seasons since turning pro – and just five times in the NHL.

Johnson’s numbers indicate he’s a better attacker than defender. He’s a good skater for his size with a solid shot but minimal defensive instincts. His Corsi and Fenwick against totals were well-below replacement-level for the Jackets in ’11-’12. His even-strength goals-against rate was among the worst in the game.

His shot production and negation abilities are similarly poor. Still, despite playing for several terrible teams in his career, he boasts a modest career +1 rating. He’s shown the willingness to play physical as this hit on Colton Orr in 2010 indicates:

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Johnson and Exelby each fit the Bruins as a seventh/eighth defenseman and spot duties spelling the youths (Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug) who are expected to vie for the B’s sixth-D duties. Providence blueliner Matt Bartkowski may challenge for a Boston job as well.

I still believe Exelby has the inside-track on the 6/7 spot (with the other going to Hamilton/Krug) but a solid camp from Johnson could easily change things.

Fans getting their dander up worrying that Johnson will ‘steal’ minutes from the Bruins’ top-prospect, Hamilton are wasting breath. It’s all but assured that Hamilton will be on the B’s roster at the start of the season (barring CBA insanity).

Hamilton should get the Seguin treatment – modest minutes with regular trips to the press-box to watch game action. Exelby and Johnson threaten Hamilton’s development about as much as Dan Paille threatened Tyler Seguin’s in 2010-11 – that is, not at all.

PJ’s Possible Return

Reports indicate that former Bruin, Per-Johan (PJ) Axelsson, is looking to make a return to North American hockey. Axelsson, who at the end of his career was the longest-tenured Bruin in Boston, spent the last two seasons with Frölunda of the Elitserien.

Two NHL clubs may have interest in the two-way forward.

Axelsson spent eleven seasons in the NHL – all with the Bruins – and tallied 103 goals and 184 assists for 287 points in just under eight hundred games. A former seventh-round pick (177th in 1995) of the B’s, Axelsson was beloved for his gritty, hardworking style and excellent defensive game.

His best statistical season came in 2002-03, when the forward grabbed a career-best 17 goals and 36 points in just 66 games – finishing seventh on the B’s in scoring.

Axelsson’s time in Sweden hasn’t been outstanding by any measure. After the 35 year-old tallied just four goals and fourteen points in fifty games for Frölunda (with reports of decreasing mobility) it’s difficult to see where he’d fit.

If a team has need of leadership, penalty-killing and defensive-zone play, PJ Axelsson’s resume speaks for itself – but his return might be less triumphant and graceful than he might like.

A Söderberg Saga Conclusion?

We’re just a few days removed from the five-year-mark of the Bruins’ ownership of stud Swedish forward, Carl Söderberg rights. Söderberg, acquired from St. Louis in 2007 for former first-round goaltender Hannu Toivonen, has spent his entire professional career in Sweden.

Söderberg is sort of a mythical beast (and a very polarizing figure) in certain dark realms of the Bruins’ fanbase: Rumors of his ‘existence’ persist, but like the Sasquatch or Goatman – there’s no credible proof…

But to those who know that the legend is real, the news that Chiarelli may finally give-up on Söderberg will disappoint. Söderberg’s production in the Elitserien and Allsvenskan has been outstanding: In his last seven seasons, he’s tallied 304 points in 292 games.

With just one year remaining on the Bruins’ claim to Söderberg’s rights, Chiarelli may move the forward to try and wring some value out of the Swedish forward.

Shea it ain’t so!

Readers who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve already weighed-in on the Shea Weber-Philadelphia Flyers offer-sheet/megadeal. A quick recap:

  • The Preds have to match, right? Even with $27 million owed to Weber before the start of the 2013-14 season, not matching would be devastating to an organization and fanbase that has come so far. The four first-rounders are paltry compensation for a top-three defenseman in the game.

    Shea Weber (Flickr/Sarah Fuqua)
  • I don’t mind the dollars or the term. On the rare occasion that a top-five-Leaguewide defenseman reaches the open market, you’ve got to pay the piper. It’s a massive risk for Philly –there’s no way around it – but a big, durable, elite two-way defender is the guy worth risking it on.
  • Zdeno Chara was signed for five years and $37.5 million in the summer of 2006 – a contract that equates to a $11.97 million average annual salary today. Think about that for a moment if you’re considering Weber’s deal.
  • The loss of Ryan Suter from his pairing will be much less jarring for Weber in Philly with Kimmo Timonen on his left side. There were significant voices who considered Suter to be the better all-around defenseman of the two. A year in Nashville without Suter would have tested Weber and that premise.

How much were the Bruins ‘in’ on the Weber discussions? Yes, they already have Chara – but adding Weber to the mix would have been devastating to the rest of the East.

Unfortunately for Bruins fans, hypothetical speculation is the sum and total of Weber-to-Boston talk. The Flyers offer-sheet makes Weber un-movable for a calendar year. He’ll be wearing Orange and Black or Gold and Navy well into the future.