The 2013-2014 NHL hockey season is just around the corner. Players will start reporting to training camp on Wednesday. Some players have roster spots locked up and some will be fighting for their professional existence.
While the focus will be on NHL roster spots in the coming weeks, the NHL won’t be the only teams that players are fighting to be a part of. The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games are set to take place in February early next year and there are still plenty of question marks with each nation’s rosters.
One of the more intriguing roster situations going into the Olympic selection process is Team USA’s blue line. The Americans have a decent group to choose from and with only 8 spots available it will certainly be a difficult choice for Team USA’s brass.
The following defensemen were all invited to Team USA’s orientation camp in late August:
Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, John Carlson, Dan DeKeyser, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Jake Gardiner, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba, and Keith Yandle.
After viewing that list there are probably more questions than answers. There many deserving candidates but only 8 spots for the 18 players listed.
Ryan Suter is a definite lock and a potential captain for the Americans, past that you could make arguments for or against pretty much any player. Today I will be making my argument against one specific player. He is a guy who has played many games for Team USA (74) and was a member of the Silver Medal winning 2010 USA team in Vancouver. The player I am going to evaluate is Jack Johnson.
So far whenever I have come across blogs and articles trying to predict Team USA’s roster, they all seem to include Jack Johnson. I have always been puzzled about the fascination with Johnson as a player. He came into the league highly touted and immediately forced a trade from the Hurricanes to the Kings. He gets talked about like he brings value to a team’s defense but he has never passed my eye test.
I decided to look into Johnson’s career numbers to find out if my eyes were failing me or if I was accurate with my gut feeling.
Below is a chart that will document Jack Johnson’s possession numbers by using the 5v5 even strength (close) Corsi For %. Basically this is a metric that measures Jack Johnson’s possession numbers in close games and puts a percentage on it.
Also included are his offensive zone starting percentages. Offensive zone starting percentages can tell you how a coach is using a specific player. If a player is receiving a ton of defensive zone starts you know that the coach is using them as a defensive specialist. If there is a large amount of offensive zone starts then the coach is most likely trying to use that player in an offensive specialist role.
The third metric is quality of competition (QoC). This measures the quality of Johnson’s opponents while he is on the ice.
The last column references the team possession ranks amongst the NHL. It shows Johnson’s old team, the Los Angeles Kings, as well as his current team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The first thing that jumps out to me when looking at this chart is that he has consistently been a negative possession player for his entire career. He has never cracked the 50% barrier which means that pucks are flying at his own net at a higher frequency than they are going towards the opposition.
Before I jump on Johnson for his possession numbers it would be fair to analyze how his coaches are using him. If he was being used in a shutdown role on a regular basis that could be the reason for lower than average possession numbers. When looking at his offensive zone starting percentage (OZ%) throughout his career it shows that it has both high and low. This shows me that he has not always been handcuffed by negative zone starts.
Johnson’s quality of competition (QoC) also ranges from high to low. This further proves that Johnson has not in fact been saddled with a shutdown role which could potentially explain his consistently bad possession numbers.
The last column shows the team rankings for puck possession in close games for both teams that Johnson has suited up for in his NHL career. During Johnson’s Kings career Los Angeles was able to recover from a pitiful 29th ranking and become a slightly above average possession team. The Blue Jackets were a slightly above average possession team prior to Johnson’s arrival in close games except for the 2009-2010 season.
As you will notice the LA Kings immediately became one of the elite puck possession teams after Jack Johnson was moved to Columbus for Jeff Carter. The Blue Jackets went from above average to a well below average team. While a team’s possession ranking is certainly not based completely on one player, it still merits mentioning Johnson’ presence (or lack thereof) coinciding with significant changes in both LA and Columbus’ team rankings.
Next I took a look at Johnson’s impact on the teammates that he has played most often since the 2011 season. The chart includes Johnson’s 7 most common teammates based on ice time since 2011. This chart will examine Johnson’s possession numbers with certain teammates, his numbers away from that teammate, and the teammates’ numbers away from him.
For this chart I will be using 5v5 zone start adjusted and will again use the CF% to measure possession.
As we look at this chart it becomes clearly evident why the Kings moved on from Jack Johnson and never looked back. Every single Kings player saw a bump in their possession when they were able to get away from Johnson. Each time Johnson saw game action away from his Kings teammates his possession numbers crashed. Those trends specifically show that Johnson held Kings players back and he was unable to hold his own when he wasn’t being propped up by them. Kings players were literally being dragged down when Johnson was on the ice.
Looking at his numbers with his Columbus teammates you do not see the drastic changes like you do with his LA teammates but you also do not see possession consistently above 50%. The only positive possession situation on this chart for Columbus is when Prospal is able to play away from Johnson.
The next chart will measure Johnson’s goals for percentage (GF%) with the same teammates during the same sample size as the chart above.
The first thing I notice when looking at this chart is just how low all of those green bars are. When Johnson is apart from his seven most common teammates his GF% does not even average out to 45%. At least 65% of all goals scored are going into the net Johnson is supposed to be defending.
Also worth noting is that James Wisniewski is the only player on this chart who is worse away from Johnson, than Johnson is away from him.
Every other player on the chart plays better away from Johnson than Johnson plays away from them.
When looking at Umberger, Kopitar, and Williams Jack Johnson has been a drag on their production. Not good when you are billed as an offensive defenseman.
Only playing with Prospal and Brown does Johnson find a GF% above 50%, but when separated from those players his GF% plummets
After looking at all the hard data I can come to the conclusion that my eyes have not failed me. Jack Johnson is an extremely overrated hockey player. Not only should he not be considered for Team USA but he should not be considered a top 4 defenseman. His coaches should be giving him sheltered minutes which allow him to play against easy competition and start a majority of his shifts in the offensive zone. Johnson is a bottom pairing defenseman who has the ability to generate some offense when on the power play.
Given the list of players that have been invited to try out for a spot on Team USA, there are way better options for a bottom pairing defenseman that is able to provide power play minutes than Johnson.
Jack Johnson does have a track record of loyal service for Team USA. He has played 31 games as an amateur and 43 games as a professional for the red, white, and blue. Johnson was also Team USA’s representative in the opening ceremonies in Vancouver. I respect Johnson’s commitment to country and applaud his patriotism; however I cannot overlook his on ice play when trying to select the best American players to compete for a Gold Medal in Sochi.
Jack Johnson, great American, not so great in the hockey department.
Thanks for reading!