• Convergence and Jack Johnson

    by Tyler Dellow • January 2, 2014 • Hockey • 12 Comments

    To me, the most interesting types of players are the ones where the numbers diverge from the opinion of NHL management types. In some cases, the numbers like guys who people inside hockey aren’t sold on – Tom Gilbert is a pretty good example of that. In other cases, guys inside hockey love a guy who the numbers say just isn’t any good.

    Jack Johnson’s a pretty solid example of the latter type. Hockey people seem to really like him. He was drafted third overall. He was traded for a decent return to Los Angeles. Dean Lombardi gave him a lot of money. Columbus traded Jeff Carter for him. Still, the stats on the guy are amazing. Basically everyone who he plays with, he makes them worse. His teams invariably do better at 5v5 when he’s not on the ice. If Corsi% is too complex for you, this little stat is pretty amazing: of the 231 defencemen who played at least 2000 5v5 minutes between 2007-13, Johnson is 223rd in terms of his team’s share of the goals when he’s on the ice: 42.8%. There is nothing good that you can say about him. Not a thing.

    Regrettably, Johnson wasn’t named to Team USA. Kevin Allen was embedded inside the Team USA selection process and his report on how the Americans selected their team included a passage that highlights the moment that Johnson got into trouble:

    On a Nov. 4 conference call, Poile informed his group that based on scouting reports, personal observations and conversations with committee members, he is moving Jack Johnson off the list of locks on defense.

    On what Poile calls his “ghost roster,” Johnson was now listed “in red” among those fighting for spots.

    “He is not tracking the way he should,” Poile said. “I’m not saying he shouldn’t be on the team, I’m just putting out a red flag.”

    Two days before the meeting, Johnson had a tough game. More important, there had been a general impression that he was struggling with all aspects of his game.

    It wasn’t easy for Poile to raise the issue because there is usually unwavering support for Johnson throughout USA Hockey. He has played for U.S. national teams, and the rule if he is invited to play for the USA, he shows up. He chartered his own plane to be the lone U.S. hockey player to march in the opening ceremonies in Vancouver. He has molten pride in wearing the USA jersey. His nickname is Captain America.

    The game that Allen mentions was against the Pittsburgh Penguins, part of a home and home. Dan Bylsma, the Penguins coach, happens to be the Team USA coach. Scott Burnside was also embedded and his lengthy report includes this:

    The coaches did not include Keith Yandle, Jack Johnson or Erik Johnson on their lists.

    “Let’s start from the bottom up here,” Poile says.

    And then he explains how he’d had a dream that Jack Johnson wasn’t on the team, a huge mistake.

    “I don’t want to force a square peg into a round hole here,” Poile says in discussing the oft-discussed Columbus defenseman. In fact, he says the coaches indicated they were relieved at the previous management discussions about Jack Johnson and how there was growing consensus his level of play wasn’t up to Olympic standards.

    “Are we correct in this decision that Jack Johnson is not going to be on the team?” Poile asks the group.

    The sort of amazing thing about the reference to the coaches there is that Todd Richards, who coaches, uh, Columbus, is part of the coaching group. We’re sort of playing telephone here but it’s kind of surprising to see “the coaches” cited as a source of concern about Johnson when one of them coaches him.

    I was struck by the coincidence of Johnson’s games against the Pens and his falling down the Team USA depth chart two days later so I took a look. It turns out that he was on the ice for four goals against in those games with a goalie in the net, along with an empty netter. I thought it might be interesting to take a look and see if he possibly didn’t look so good. He’s wearing number seven.

    Ouch. My sense reading these stories is that the coaching staff had considerable sway. It may be that Jack Johnson picked the absolute wrong time to make his case that the numbers guys are right.

    Email Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey@gmail.com

    About Tyler Dellow

    12 Responses to Convergence and Jack Johnson

    1. Jay
      January 2, 2014 at

      Too bad Poile didn’t have the same enlightened thinking about Brooks Orpik…sigh.

    2. timmay
      January 2, 2014 at

      Pretty good rule of thumb:

      If Brian Burke thinks he’s a good hockey player, he isn’t a good hockey player

    3. Noah
      January 2, 2014 at

      I’m a Penguins fan, and it kills me that Brooks Orpik is going to be on the team and Keith Yandle was left off. On an unrelated note, I’m amazed that Bobby Ryan was left off a team that includes no fewer than 5 other Ryans (Suter, Kesler, Miller, McDonaugh, and Callahan).

      • dawgbone
        January 8, 2014 at

        You can kind of get why.

        If he’s going by last names and goes “Ryan, get on the ice” you might have some guys just go on by instinct.

        And no, that isn’t a real reason.

    4. K. Kettle
      January 2, 2014 at

      It’s ironic that, in one of the articles, Brian Burke is quoted as stating that coaches opinions’ should be weighted in accordance with the fact that they see only snapshots of a player, and yet this game seems to have weighed heavily.
      Keeping in mind that players on bad teams find a disproportionate number of minor mistakes turn into goals against, of these 4 goals against only one of which can really be blamed on Johnson (the first one, in which he didn’t box out Kunitz). What about the other goals?
      Goal # 2 – his hands get hooked (missed call) which causes him to lose possession. But, where are the rest of the Jackets? None on the defensive side of the puck.
      Goal # 3 – marginal call against him (what was it for – holding or boarding) but he has his man … the goal against results from the rest of the team breaking down.
      Goal # 4 – NHL coaches teach their Def to keep the attacker to the outside because those passes / shots are low percentage. Here, Johnson plays the man perfectly, finishing his check rather than chasing the puck, and in doing so allows a very low % pass that gets tipped in by the Jackets’ own player.
      I’m not arguing that Johnson should be on Team USA, but if the USA Management is basing their decision heavily on this set of observations, I’m not very confident in their decision making.

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 2, 2014 at

        I’m not sure I see the goals the same way that you do. I don’t see a hooking penalty on goal 2. It’s a stick lifting. The stick is down the shaft. I don’t think the call on goal 3 was marginal either – he’s got his stick around the guy. Worse, he doesn’t at least end the play. As for the fourth goal, he lets the guy get into a position to put it across the front of the net by not taking him earlier.

    5. Vik
      January 2, 2014 at

      On the first goal, I think he may have been trying to get out of Bobrovsky’s way so he could see the shot and ended up letting Kunitz get position. Either that or he’s just drifting. It’s a mistake but honestly not one I would be too worried about it.
      On the second goal, under the rules coming out of the lockout, it’s a penalty for the stick on stick action but, to me, his mistake was in continuing to pursue the puck instead of finding the right angle on the attacker. But, to be fair, the Jackets also allowed all three Pens forwards to get below them when no Columbus player ever had clear possession of the puck so he wasn’t getting the greatest help there either.
      On the third goal, I don’t see what there is to blame him for. His stick was tied up so he couldn’t really make a play on the puck and he had his man contained. You can hold it against him that he took a penalty if you like but anything beyond that would seem a little silly to me.
      And on the final goal, he got his stick on the puck and, I’d assume, figured it was enough to get by Kunitz but Kunitz managed to get his foot/leg on it. After that, Johnson kind of had to recover and I’d say he did a good job with the pivot (better than Orpik could) to get right back on the chemisty major and he gave up a very low percentage play that got tipped in by his own guy. Although I do have one big criticism on the play, that being his taking his stick off the ice to get that shoulder swing into the hit. That drives me nuts. If he keeps his stick on the ice, he can still throw the hit but he probably takes away any chance for his guy to tip it in while he’s at it.

      Anyways, there are obviously some problems there but I’d also say you’re also being overly critical of his contributions to the goals.

    6. geno
      January 3, 2014 at

      Tyler. Seeing as your a big fan of fancy stats, what do you make of Hall being a 44-45%(probably 44 after tonight in SJ) corsi player?

      It seems he’s having a pretty piss poor season in terms of 5 on 5 play (+2/-12 tonight) and giveaways (seemed to be a big deal in the WHC)(45 in 35GP this year, 29 in 45GP last year). Does that not influence your thinking that he should be a lock for team canada?

      what do you think the route of this downturn in play is coming from? eakins? confidence?

      • geno
        January 3, 2014 at

        root*

    7. Paul in Ohio
      January 4, 2014 at

      I’m a Blue Jackets fan and I am not surprised in the least that Johnson was left off the Olympic roster. He is, hands down, the worst defenseman on the team. And I mean in every aspect. He either can’t, or doesn’t play defense, he repeatedly makes terrible passes which invariably wind up ion an opponent’s stick (Or, as in the last Penguins game, makes a perfect pass directly to the opposing teams’ best forward!), he is supposed to be a power play specialist yet has been terrible on the PP, he’s supposed to be an offensive d-man yet isn’t even in the Jackets’ top ten in points. My question isn’t why he didn’t make the Olympic roster, but how soon can the Jackets dump him on someone else.

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