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Pittsburgh Penguins targeting Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson?

Greg Wyshynski
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to upgrade their roster before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s what Ray Shero does.

One expects there to be a winger added to the mix, potentially to play with Sidney Crosby – oh, those Jarome Iginla rumors just won’t stop.

But the Penguins have also been after a defenseman who can man the point on the power play.

There was the dance with Ryan Suter last summer before he signed with the Minnesota Wild. There’s been talk that Sergei Gonchar could return to the Pens if the Ottawa Senators have him on the block.

Now, another name has surfaced, and it’s one that makes sense on a lot of fronts: Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, his assistant Chris MacFarland, and senior advisor (and former Penguins GM) Craig Patrick watched last night’s Pittsburgh win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rob Rossi of the Tribune-Review speculates on Johnson:

He was the third overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and is a longtime friend of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Johnson was acquired by the Blue Jackets last season. He is not off to a great start this season, with a goal and eight points to go with a minus-10 rating in 18 games. Johnson’s cap hit is $4.35 million, and his contract runs through the 2017-18 season. He is widely viewed as a top power-play quarterback, which the Penguins currently lack.

The Penguins are deepest organizationally on defense, with three first-round picks among their top prospects. [Simon] Despres, the 30th overall pick in 2009, has the look of a top-four staple, though he has appeared in only 17 of the Penguins’ 23 games this season.

Johnson arrived from the Los Angeles Kings in the Jeff Carter trade, which eventually helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup.

That contract – $4,357,143 against the cap through 2018 – would potentially give the Penguins upwards of $19 million committed to five defensemen next season, with Brooks Oprik, Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen all due for new contracts in Summer 2014.

From the Blue Jackets' perspective, moving Johnson would seem to be the type of thing new team president John Davidson would pursue. His is one of three contracts for defensemen signed through 2017, along with James Wisniewski and Fedor Tyutin. Davidson and his staff didn’t make the Carter trade, and didn’t take on Johnson’s deal. In reassembling this team, he might be a casualty.

For Pittsburgh, the Crosby connection and the USA Hockey connection with Shero are undeniable. But does he make sense for the Penguins? Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh says no thanks:

Rossi is absolutely wrong when he characterizes Johnson as an "elite partner" for Letang and it's even worse when he says Johnson would be "insurance" for Letang potentially leaving.

Jack Johnson is all reputation, and would not help the Penguins on the ice, and off the ice his contract would almost certainly mean that either Letang or Evgeni Malkin could not be re-signed in Pittsburgh. (And it won't be Malkin going). Acquiring Johnson would not be a good thing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, regardless of what they send back to Columbus. Sending a 21 year old defenseman in Despres who's showing he's NHL capable would be a terrible idea.

So … not a fan then.

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