By Tony Gallagher, The Province March 17, 2012
When Jack Johnson got traded from Los Angeles to Columbus many of his friends and even fellow players in the game were sending him messages of condolence.
It was seen by many as a transfer from a playoff team in the sun on the west coast to something of an armpit squad in the cellar but none of these sentiments were resonating well with the big U.S. Olympian.
“Everyone thought I was going from paradise to someplace nobody wants to be but I don't care if I'm playing on the moon as long as I'm happy coming to the rink,” says Johnson, who has shown a tremendous maturity in greeting the deal as though it's his calling to personally lift this team out of it's horrors. “When I came in this room I was surprised at how upbeat the atmosphere was and I've been very happy here so far. It's been very positive and I've been very impressed.
“You've got to be happy when you come in the in the morning. Life is no fun if you're not happy but it's been great. It's not doom and gloom, that's for sure.”
Given all that has been going on since the Blue Jackets acquired him from the Kings in the trade which sent Jeff Carter to L.A., that's saying a very good deal about how determined this 23-year-old is to make something of his hockey career in terms of team success. He's come into the backdrop of a team hopelessly out of playoff contention with it's best player Rick Nash having gone to ownership and essentially said, it's general manager Scott Howson or me. And judging by the fact Howson has been allowed to make the Carter deal and was in pretty serious talks at the trade deadline to move Nash in what would have been the biggest deal had it come off, there's a good chance ownership chose the GM. It's the same situation as existed in Ottawa last year. Everyone was thinking Bryan Murray was toast but then he started to make a lot of deals at the deadline and when ownership allows the general manager to make those moves at that time they'll likely extend his contract. Howson's in the same boat by the look of things and it's expected he'll move Nash just prior to the draft in June in hopes of having his second kick at trying to rebuild this team. They did it in Ottawa, short term at least.
Johnson is as happy to be out of L.A. as he is to be in Columbus, although he doesn't really want to run down his old team in any way.
“Let's just say it wasn't a good fit,” says Johnson, implying the defensive style of the team just didn't get the most out of what he feels he can bring to a team and what he feels he's always brought to any team he's ever played on. “It happens in sports and this was one case where I think it did. I just don't think they were using me to the fullest and not because Drew (Doughty) was there. There was no reason he and I couldn't have played together. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what's going on there, it just wasn't the right fit for me.”
Historically, Vancouver hockey fans should be very familiar with this concept. Throughout this franchise's history this situation has happened at least three times whereby defencemen with offensive skills have come in here and been asked to chip it off the glass and play like Willie Mitchell. J.J. Daigneault was one, Michel Petit another and Rick Lanz yet another. Lanz in fact was in the same draft as Paul Coffey and had he gone to the Oilers and Coffey come here, it just might be Lanz in the Hall of Fame and Coffey outside looking in. It happens. And it usually profoundly affects the player's career if it happens early on, the way it did with all the above Canucks and Johnson. And Vancouver fans, throw in Jiri Slegr while you're at it.
Needless to say Johnson is trying to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen with him long term. He's now seeing action in every conceivable capacity for interim coach Todd Richards and it just might be he who is named captain if and when Nash is dispatched. To be sure there's constantly a big smile on his face as he tries to do his part to make sure the right atmosphere exits for the new players to flourish when they arrive.
Maybe he's found the right fit.
A match made in seven
by ALEXKINKOPF on MARCH 13, 2012
It was a different feel inside Nationwide Arena Thursday night, an uplifting aura among those in capacity as they rambunctiously released their disdain toward Jeff Carter, and embraced a new player who openly expressed his excitement to play hockey in Columbus, Ohio.
“I’m excited by this. I’m excited to go to a team that wants me, and to play in a great sports city. I want to be part of the solution there. I know they’ve had some bad breaks and some tough seasons, but it’s going to be great when it turns around. Really, I don’t think there’s anything sweeter in sports than being part of a team when they get it turned around.” - Jack Johnson via Mayors Manor
That in itself should have won the hearts of Blue Jackets fans, who have suffered through an abysmal season mired in disappointing results and player controversy, stemming from Carter’s negative attitude in being dealt to Columbus, from their franchise player politely requesting a deadline trade.
Who would show such positivity in getting dealt to the worst team in the NHL, and to a city (Columbus) that surely isn’t one’s desired location on the list of teams in the league? An honest player would, a player who doesn’t take such things into consideration – because at the end of the day, it’s all about hockey. Jack Johnson has showed these characteristics in genuine form. He’s noticed the opportunity for not just a fresh start for his own career, but for a struggling franchise as well.
After two losses to kick off his start in Columbus, Johnson and the rejuvenated Jackets strung together four consecutive victories, the latter of those coming against his former team, the Los Angeles Kings. Johnson wouldn’t just beat his former team, but would net the game-winning goal. And to further prove his dedication to his desperate new club, Johnson wasn’t afraid to share the pride he took in beating his old friends – a game in which was extremely important for the Kings.
“This one felt good. This has been a really great change for me. I’ve been excited to come to the rink every day. These guys here have a blast here at the rink and it’s carrying over onto the ice. Guys are loose and having fun. That’s what this game is supposed to be all about.” – Jack Johnson via LA Times
Maybe that’s what the different feel was Thursday night. For the past two seasons, I’ve made the trip to Nationwide Arena to catch up on the Kings each time they’re in town. Never have I felt such relaxed, positive vibes from those in attendance. This, coming from fans cheering for a team that has absolutely nothing to play for.
Or do they? Remember when your childhood coaches told you it was all about having fun? They seem to be taking that route in Columbus, and it’s had a positive effect.
This could be the first time Johnson has factored fun into his game for quite some time, his play in Los Angeles was consistently questioned by fans, media, and even his own General Manager – Dean Lombardi. Johnson was criticized by Lombardi for striving off of pure talent, rather than obeying the odds and ends of a coaching system. For a hockey player, Johnson is a thoroughbred, maybe less direction and lighter boundaries will finally allow the five-year NHL veteran to blossom into his prime.
Johnson’s pure skill and physical abilities are a player’s dream, but he’s been hounded by many for having a ‘terrible hockey IQ’ – which you can’t argue isn’t a somewhat valid point, especially after watching him for several years. Is he a better player without direction? This isn’t a player who’s going to ignore a coach out of frustration or spite, rather one who could disfigure his skills with too much thinking, too much direction.
“When a trade happens, it means a team wants you. It’s a great feeling to come into a place where they want you. I’m looking forward to giving everything I have to offer.” – Jack Johnson via ESPN
The Blue Jackets are embracing Johnson’s positively passionate attitude upon word of the trade, and are letting him play on his own terms. But really, they should be doing this regardless with a veteran addition such as Johnson, there aren’t too many results or personalities to set the bar in Columbus these days.
Back to the whole ‘embracing’ thing, no wonder I was shocked to see a handful of Jack Johnson jerseys before getting to our seats on Thursday. If you don’t think this is an awesome promotion, then you’re wrong.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s trade from Los Angeles happened under desperate measures, the Kings already heavy in defensive depth but highly desperate for a scoring asset for a shot at the playoffs. Johnson wasn’t only attractive to teams active at the deadline, but he was expendable. Johnson, who re-signed last season, did so on his own terms, which led to a very favorable contract – both in the length and money departments.
Johnson, 25, still has plenty of development time for a defenseman of his caliber, many don’t hit full stride until 27 or 28 for his role. That will have to take place in Columbus, Ohio, a major change in scenery from Los Angeles, California. However, sometimes all it takes is a uniform change for a player to truly step into his own, a fresh start, a new environment.
Los Angeles is a quiet hockey town outside of the inner circle, Columbus is a hockey town with a quiet – yet widespread following throughout the city. They’re as passionate as any other market in the NHL, but much like the Kings suffer from their West Coast bias, the Blue Jackets suffer from their small-market roster and oft-forgotten location. Here, Johnson can help feed the spotlight into a close-knit, but large, community.
There’s no question the Blue Jackets won at the trade-deadline, even managing to keep Rick Nash at home. As for winning in the future, Jack Johnson is certainly a stable block to build off of, don’t be shocked to see him as an Alternate Captain next year.
This could be a turning point for Columbus, the turning point for Johnson’s career.
By the way, Jeff Carter has been doing just fine in LA.