If the first game of the Stanley Cup Final is any indication, we should be in for a great run. There’s star power in every direction, and some of the game’s great players go head-to-head.
Somewhere in the background is the man Pittsburgh loves to hate, looking for his first Stanley Cup episode in what could be his last NHL season.
Jack JohnsonA career was something to see.
The third general pick, the promise of the first few seasons, parents steal millions from it, and play is backtracking. John Tortorella was famous for his benches, penguins Giving him a disgraceful decade, the collective head of the analytics community exploded, and the war of words between Jim Rutherford and Tortorella became the stuff of legend. The penguins eventually buy it, still get contracts, and might win the trophy.
Yes, it was quite a wild ride.
when you think of AvalancheThink of the fastest and most talented team in the league. The Avs are young and dynamic, the new faces that push the juggernaut, the closest thing the NHL to TV is to watch. It’s as if the hockey gods coined the apes themselves to make the game of hockey better and more popular. Speed and talent sell, and they excel with both.
Johnson, of course, does not seem appropriate. He’s slow at this point in his career. On the surface, he would appear to be an anti-avalanche type player. Given the way Joe Sakic has built his team, it remains strange that he signed Johnson in the first place.
due to injury Samuel GerrardJohnson, however, was called up after a reasonably effective regular season. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t disastrous either. He is three games away from writing his name in the Stanley Cup.
What an amazing moment to see Johnson ice skate with the trophy in his hands.
It all takes me back to Johnson’s tenure in Pittsburgh and how curious she was, then and now.
The Penguins awarded Johnson a five-year contract worth over $16 million. They were not obligated to do so at all. There was no frantic bidding war for Johnson’s services. He was seen throughout the league as a regressive and aging player whose core numbers undermine the team’s championship hopes more than they increase them.
No other team has done anything in the neighborhood in five years for Johnson. Then came Rutherford and the penguins.
I spoke with Rutherford at length about the infamous contract. To this day, he doesn’t regret it and doesn’t hold Johnson responsible for any of the Penguins’ problems during his two seasons in Pittsburgh.
“He can still play,” Rutherford told me when we last talked about the Johnson deal. “He can still kill penalties and help the team win. He is a man of character.”
Perhaps this last point explains everything.
You must remember that it was Rutherford who drafted Johnson when he was Carolina’s general manager in 2005. Even then, Rutherford had a soft spot for Johnson. Everyone does.
Fans usually don’t care which players are “nice guys” and which players are fools. Fans are interested in who is doing well and whether their team wins matches. It all makes perfect sense, especially since those who follow the game have systematically become more analytical in their thinking. This usually removes feelings from the equation and focuses on hard facts.
Incidentally, the hard facts tell us that Johnson never quite lived up to the billing as the third overall pick, behind two points Sidney Crosby, 17 years ago. He’s never had a bad career by any means, but even the most loyal analytics follower will tell you that Johnson has been a deficient player in 13 of his 16 seasons in the National Hockey League (and they hate that statistic). His play has faded badly in the past five seasons. Johnson has no wheels for today’s game. In the ’80s, given his size, he was probably a very good player. But this is not the eighties. The game is different now.
So, why on earth did he give Rutherford Johnson a five-year contract? It sounded like crazy back then, as it does now. The penguins are still paying for it for another two years, in fact. Buying a contract isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
A man’s character, that’s why. The fans don’t recognize the players. Executives like Rutherford do.
I really think Rutherford felt like a father figure to Johnson. Rutherford is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and for good reason. He sure was aware that other teams didn’t knock on Johnson’s door with long-term offers.
I believe Rutherford wanted to make him ready for life, to make sure he was taken care of. Not every day a professional athlete loses most of his money to his parents. It was all at once Brilliantly dated by my colleague, Aaron Burtzlin.
Johnson, upon telling Rutherford that he understood he was not a good enough player to receive the no-trade clause, asked him for advance notice if he would be traded to a team whose taxes were particularly high, such as San Jose or Canadian market. This is how aware he is of money because of what happened to him.
Penguins fans, especially on social media, were particularly fierce toward Johnson after this signing. Each bug was identified with annoyed tweets. Some of the humble members of the fan base are actively hoping that Johnson will suffer an injury so that other players will have to join the squad. This sparked two backlash over the years from Rutherford – he was in a rage especially the day before the Penguins played an outdoor game in Philadelphia in 2019 – who was well aware of how Johnson was being treated.
Johnson, according to many of those close to him, is impervious to ugliness in his direction. He does not have a social media account and is not interested in owning it. However, his friends and family are very familiar with the treatment, and are very sensitive to it. For them, Johnson has already been through hell. Through it all, he continues to be a wonderful human being, a loving husband, a proud father, and a locker room presence second to none.
Everyone who knows him loves him. When you are around him, you immediately feel warm and harmless.
In the end, those who have criticized the contract and criticized Johnson’s performance have two feet to stand on. He wasn’t a good NHL player for a long time. The contract, by any objective analysis, was the worst contract the penguins made to a player in their history.
However, he has always been a good man by all accounts, showing nothing but grace despite losing millions of dollars to his parents. How many people can still show grace in the midst of those circumstances? How many of us would choose bitterness instead?
Hopefully Johnson, who is a very good person if you meet one of them, will get to skate with the trophy in a week or two.
When the game is over, he’ll probably walk away and everyone stop talking about him. My grandmother would always tell me, ‘Josh, if I’m right about something, I don’t need to repeat it over and over again. People will know.’
That’s what I’ve always wanted to say to the many people who have wasted so many breaths complaining about Johnson. It was not a good signature. He is a mediocre player.
We know Johnson is not a great player. But sometimes the good man gets the trophy. The guy has gone through a hell we can’t really imagine. It would be great to see him receive the heavenly rush that only a trophy can give a hockey player, and then go away to his family and friends, the people who value him most.
(Top photo: Ron Chinoy/USA Today)