It’s no secret that the Montreal Canadiens are in the market for a left-handed defenceman to play next to Shea Weber. Plenty of names have been thrown around, but in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts” by Elliotte Friedman, the Sportsnet analyst believes that Montreal is “a stealth destination” for the pending unrestricted free agent.
Quite frankly, signing Johnson, who wants term and money on a contract, would be absolutely disastrous for the Canadiens. Especially when you consider that the Habs did this exact same thing last year with Karl Alzner; overpaying for a declining asset. Consider now that Johnson is also older than Alzner, and fell out of favour with head coach John Tortorella, and his addition would look like a repeat of the previous off-season.
While at one point he was a steady, serviceable option on the blue line, at least in terms of his production on offence, his biggest flaw was always his defensive abilities. Those haven’t improved much, and Johnson is coming off his worst offensive season in a decade.
Without any offensive production to cover up his defensive miscues, Johnson essentially becomes a worse version of Alzner. As we saw last year, the experiment with Alzner alongside Shea Weber did not go well in the slightest. In fact, if we compare Alzner and Johnson, the advanced metrics speak for themselves: Johnson performed worse than Alzner in almost every category.
Even when his offensive numbers were at their peak, a majority of those points were coming on the power play, and not at even strength. Combine this already declining production with the fact he likely wouldn’t be used on the power play over other players on the team, and it’s likely his offensive game would continue to stagnate.
In every situation he was on the ice this past season in Columbus, he made his team worse; a fairly impressive feat considering the amount of time he spent on the ice. While he was utilized more in some situations as opposed to others, the results they tell us that Johnson is a negative asset on the ice.
This is the smallest sample of all the situations we’re going to look at with Johnson in this article. The fact that he only received 11 minutes on the power play says a lot about where his game is at. Over the past three seasons, he had a total of eight points on the man advantage.
This is a larger sample size, and it’s still bad news when looking at his heatmaps on the penalty kill. On the Columbus roster he played the second-most minutes on the penalty kill, behind David Savard. The main takeaway is that when Johnson is on the ice, opposing teams got far more chances around the Blue Jackets’ net, in particular on his side of the ice. Compare this to when he is off the ice (second chart) and it’s night and day. With Johnson off the ice, shots in his area immediately drop, to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of bleeding chances against, almost no high-danger shots are coming from the left side.
So maybe he isn’t a special-teams specialist. Maybe he could be used to eat up minutes alongside Shea Weber at even strength, and give time to a player like Victor Mete on the power play. Let’s take a look at his even-strength offence and defence, and see if there is something salvageable there.
For someone who is supposedly an offensively inclined defencemen, Johnson’s heatmap leaves a lot to be desired, especially when compared to what it looks like when he isn’t on the ice. Playing top four minutes at even strength, a player is expected to have better production.
Going deeper than that, Johnson is a negative in almost every relative stat in terms of possession. He was second-worst in relative Corsi-for percentage(-5.25), trailing just Scott Harrington (-7.83) who played over 900 minutes less at even strength. In terms of relative goals-for percentage (-9.90) he was second-worst on the team behind Ryan Murray.
With just 11 points overall in 77 games this past season, Johnson is just not creating the offence he needs to in a top-four role. To put that into perspective, he produced less offence this past season than Alzner, who isn’t even remotely close to being an offensive defender.
Much like we saw in his penalty-killing charts, Johnson’s defensive abilities are not up to par either. Unlike the smaller samples on the penalty kill and power play, this is a sample of nearly 1300 minutes at five-on-five, and you’ll notice a trend that appeared in his penalty killing charts: Johnson’s side of the ice is highlighted in bright red, meaning opposing teams are generating more scoring chances in those areas on the ice.
That’s four major areas where Johnson is lacking overall, which should limit the interest of an NHL team, unless it is absolutely desperate for a defenceman. We’ve primarily compared Johnson to his defensive partners, but even looking at his with or without you charts, it’s clear Johnson is an anchor on his teammates, regardless of position.
Only one player was better with Johnson, and that was Harrington, who was only marginally better. When you have that many players who are dragged down by someone playing massive minutes, there’s clearly an issue with that one player, not the system or team as a whole.
Given that Johnson wants to cash in on one last long-term, high-value deal as an unrestricted free agent, and factoring in his less than desirable advanced metrics, the Canadiens should be looking elsewhere for defensive help. He’s going to cost a lot, doesn’t fix any of the Canadiens’ needs, and would arguably make a lacking defensive group even worse.
I woul say no in as many ways as possible to a potential deal. He’s a liability defensively and a declining asset offensively. That’s a recipe for a true disaster of a long-term contract.