General managers continue to have a heavy presence at Penguin home games in the past couple weeks and last night was no different. The Columbus Blue Jackets were heavily represented with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, assistant GM Chris MacFarland, and top senior advisor Craig Patrick all in attendance.
Keep in mind that the Penguins and Blue Jackets often scout each other because of the close proximity. GM Ray Shero will often take a few trips to Columbus a year on off nights.
As one executive told me a few weeks ago, the media tries to look “too much” into scouts, GM’s scouting a particular game around the trade deadline.
That could be the case here, but to no surprise trade speculation is rampant this morning as Kekalainen and Shero are very close.
Rob Rossi of the Trib reported last night after the game that the Penguins are “looking at Jack Johnson” of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Rossi Writes, “The NHL trade deadline expires in less than a month.The Penguins may again me be looking to strike before it by moving a young defenseman. Simon Despres, 21, is available – and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ three senior members of hockey operations attended the Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.”
“This past summer, while pursing free-agent defenseman Ryan Suter, the Penguins envisioned paring Letang with an elite partner. Jack Johnson, 26, could potentially fit that description.”
The Penguins have liked Johnson in the past and looked into him when he was a member of the Los Angeles Kings, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Penguins look to see if new Blue Jackets management is willing to move Johnson as they were not the ones who traded for him. However, I have not been able to confirm that they are targeting him at all and my view of the situation is a package centered around Despres for Johnson that Rossi speculates on makes no sense for either team.
Johnson, 26, while a workhorse who logs heavy minutes averaging 26:13 of ice time per game, is very suspect in his own end despite all the physical tools he has.
“He’s a tease,” an NHL source said of Johnson.
Johnson is a minus-95 in his career and in now his eighth NHL season, he’s yet to develop into the type of lock down defenseman many think he should be.
In Despres the Penguins have a 21 year old blueliner who has great size and is already showing flashes of being a top-4 defenseman. While Johnson is clearly an established defenseman in this league, Despres might already be better defensively than Johnson who is very overrated as a player in his own end. With Despres you still have the upside factor of him developing into a do it all defenseman.
The opinion from those in league circles I’ve heard from this morning is the Penguins would regret this type of move as a Despres for Johnson swap doesn’t help either team.
For the Penguins, adding Johnson while losing Despres doesn’t really do anything for them and for the Blue Jackets, trading an established defenseman at just 26 years old who is signed through 2017-2018 for a younger defenseman doesn’t add up for them either.
Now adding Johnson while keeping Despres does upgrade your blueline and that’s something worth exploring for the Penguins, but one source believes the Blue Jackets would want offense for Johnson.
If I’m Pittsburgh I’d at least consider dangling Beau Bennett, Matt Niskanen as part of a package for Johnson and an established role player as the Blue Jackets have some attractive role player that could fit the Penguins needs.

In regards to a Johnson – Despres swap, I think people are just guessing there.