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 firstname.lastname@example.org