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Insider Only Why the Penguins made a calculated move to leak the Johnson signings days in advance

The Pittsburgh Penguins signing of Jack Johnson to a 5 year contract has drawn major criticism and the Penguins knew it was coming before the deal became official on July 1.

That’s a main reason the team made a calculated move last week to leak the signing several days before July 1.

One source noted the club wanted to try to get out in front of it.

Jim Rutherford is a GM who offers unbelievable access for a General Manager. He’s not shy about laying his plans out in the open, he’ll often tell you how he feels, even if it’s off the cuff.

One thing, though, that is very important to Rutherford is positive press, those who know Rutherford constantly say.

All you have to do is look back at how he handled the negative headlines late in the 2014-2015 season.

Rutherford is a wonderful guy, a likely Hall-of-Famer, and his beyond the norm accessibility has great benefit to the Penguins in receiving positive headlines/articles from a few select outlets.

That stuff matters to organizations, even if they’ve won the Stanley Cup two out of three years and don’t really need any.

Where is this playing out?

The Penguins have taken steps to grant the so called ‘traveling media’ more unique access to the General Manager and it has advantages in getting positive PR when your trying to sell a questionable move.

And to little surprise, the Jack Johnson signing has been universally praised from those specific 3-4 outlets the Penguins give this access to.

You think these certain outlets are going to rip a questionable signing when the organization is leaking the contract numbers to them days ahead or are going to be overly critical when they have the unique access they do to the GM, when so many other General Managers are extremely guarded and you have to pull teeth to get a simple response?

I don’t think so.

The Penguins made a calculated move to get the Johnson signing out in the days ahead and what happened for the organization and Rutherford on July 1 is that they went overboard in trying to sell the signing by coming off defensive.

The Penguins went as far to have Johnson at Jim Rutherford’s press conference (something they’ve never done with July 1 signings) like they signed a player the caliber of John Tavares.

Ruhterford handled the situation poorly in trying to imply he knew the reason Johnson was benched last season.

“I don’t think he had a bad year,” Rutherford said of Johnson. “He was a healthy scratch at the end of the season. I know the reason why. It wasn’t because of how he was playing.”

Without actually saying it, Rutherford implied Johnson’s trade request was the reason he wasn’t playing and that’s what made the Blue Jackets organization go nuts and understandably so.

At the end of the day, the Penguins are potentially playing a risky expectation game.

In trying to sell the signing over the past week, the Penguins have gone out to try to make Johnson out to be something he’s not, — a top-2 pairing defenseman — and the’ve also set themselves up for criticism in the long-run by squarely levying the expectation game of Johnson being an impact top-2 pairing defenseman.

He’s not going to be.

This isn’t some 24, 25 year defenseman like Justin Schultz who needed some actual coaching.

The soon to be 32 year old is what he is, a No. 6 caliber defenseman in this league who while may be helpful in the Penguins transition game with a good first pass, is going to be a disaster at times in his own end, especially playing with this forward group that doesn’t take playing a 200 ft game all that serious at times during stretches in the regular season.

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About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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