Jack Johnson who has been the subject of heavy Pittsburgh Penguins trade rumors departed the locker room after practice Tuesday, but not before he imparted a few more words of wisdom following our conversation. He stopped to deposit his sweaty practice jersey in the laundry bin, and said to Pittsburgh Hockey Now, “What’s the saying? Don’t believe everything you hear and half of what you read.”
Tuesday, he and Penguins management pushed back on published reports that Johnson was likely to be traded this week.
In fairness, the actual expression, after a Google search, ends with “half of what you see,” but Johnson made his point loud and clear. The Penguins defenseman firmly rejected reports that GM Jim Rutherford informed him or his agent that a deal was likely.
In a span of 48 hours, Johnson was the subject of heavy Penguins trade rumors, then was reunited with Justin Schultz on the second pairing at practice Tuesday. So, how is Johnson’s week going?
‘I was made aware of (the report) when I came off the ice (Sunday),” Johnson told PHN. “No, it’s not true. (The report) is unfortunate…Mr. Rutherford never went to my agent or came to me.”
Johnson’s lack of social media accounts probably added some insulation to the speculation and growing Penguins trade rumors. However, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford also took a shot across the bow of reporters Tuesday.
“That was some pretty shabby journalism because all these reporters here have 24-hour access to me,” Rutherford told our friends at 93.7 the Fan Tuesday morning. “When you’re going to write something like that you probably should go right to the person that can answer the question.”
Johnson’s agent Pat Brisson used far more careful language than either Johnson or Rutherford. Via email, Brisson told PHN, “I always have conversations with GMs about players and situations. They are confidential unless we made them public for the right reasons. There are so many speculations out there.”
Johnson isn’t the first athlete or Penguins player this week to surface in trade rumors. And, he freely admitted not only has he been through this before but also the Penguins locker room knew someone was likely to be traded because of the team’s salary cap situation.
Back in the days before Twitter and the explosion of hockey internet, Johnson was involved in a stalemate with the Carolina Hurricanes and then-GM Jim Rutherford. Carolina selected Johnson third overall, but instead Johnson played college hockey until Carolina traded him to the LA Kings, where Johnson began his NHL career in 2006.
And LA traded Johnson to Columbus at the 2011 trade deadline.
“I mean, I’ve been through this before,” his darkly chuckled. “Really, there are a few guys in here (who are untouchable), otherwise anyone. There are 15 guys (who could be traded).”
Johnson was firm as PHN probed again. No, he wasn’t told. By Tuesday morning, the Penguins coaches had returned to the same defensive pairings which ended last season. Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang were the first pairing. For the first time in camp and preseason, the Penguins elevated Johnson to second paring responsibilities with Schultz. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson went back to a third pairing with Erik Gudbranson which was successful last season.
“He’s so great,” Johnson said of Schultz before veering into a description of Schultz’s puck-moving game. Though Johnson’s opinion of Schultz matters less than Penguins coach Mike Sullivan’s opinion on Johnson. Sullivan’s return to the steady pairings which ended last season, despite using Juuso Riikola for the final two preseason games or John Marino, said a lot about the coach’s confidence in Johnson.
In the end, Johnson shook his head, “Unless it comes from Mr. Rutherford, my agent who should know or me…”