TRADE ANALYSIS: Jack Johnson Brings Familiarity and Trust, But Is It An Upgrade?
If there had been a way to bet on Jack Johnson returning to the Colorado Avalanche this season, a lot of fans probably would have just won some money.
On Sunday afternoon, the Avalanche announced they had re-acquired Johnson before the NHL trade deadline on Friday. In return, they sent defenseman Andreas Englund to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Johnson coming back to the Avalanche is not a surprise. Englund going the other way is a surprise…sort of. It’s clear the Avalanche value the familiarity Johnson brings, and he’s a trusted player for the coaching staff, but is he an upgrade on the ice?
Johnson’s analytics have pretty much always been terrible. They were when he earned a contract last training camp, and they still are. Here’s a look at some of his numbers.
Jack Johnson, acquired by COL, is a Stanley Cup Champion. #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/LretKr1m5D
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 26, 2023
Not pretty. But none of this is new information to anyone around the league, and certainly not to the Avalanche. And to be honest, I’m not sure they care all that much.
Why bring Johnson back? Well, trust and familiarity. Johnson played a lot of minutes for the Avalanche last season. In the regular season, he moved up and down the defense and the staff liked him a lot, particularly on the penalty kill. And when Girard was injured in the playoffs, he stepped in and played quiet, safe hockey. He’s someone they know they can trust. He knows the system and, like Nieto, it’ll probably feel like he never left.
The other reason? The locker room. Johnson is loved by all of his teammates, and that does mean something. It might not matter a whole lot on the ice, but for team building, it does.
This season, Johnson ranked second in average time on ice per game on Chicago’s defense. Yes, you read that right. Second. Everyone and their mother knows that Johnson should not be used that much, especially at this point in his career, but the Blackhawks are actively trying to lose this season. 19:50 a game for Johnson is just too much.
The Avalanche know this, and Johnson won’t play anywhere near that much in Colorado. The staff is banking on him just being a dependable depth defenseman. Just as a comparison, Englund averaged 11:16 a game for the Avalanche. Johnson will probably play around that, and the staff knows they can trust him with limited minutes like that.
I imagine that we’ll see a lot of excited players when we walk into the locker room on Monday.
When Englund was initially called up in November, it was not pretty. He looked in over his head, and after a few games, he was sent down. I didn’t even think we’d see him again.
Not only did we see him again, but after being brought back up in early December, he hasn’t left. And to be honest, he’s gotten a lot better. Defensively, he’s very sound. He’s good with his stick, and is able to keep up with forwards because he’s a strong skater at his size. Offensively, there are limitations there, and he’s not the best puck mover. Still, there was noticeable improvement as the year went on. One thing he was really good at was avoiding the penalty box. In 36 games, he only took three minor penalties.
His analytics are very strong, but you have to consider the team he’s on. In Colorado, he’s been playing very sheltered minutes. He only surpassed the 15 minute mark in one game this season, so the staff knew of his limitations. He deserves a lot of credit for turning things around, but he was put in some good spots. The same spots the staff will likely put Johnson in.
I’m very interested to see what happens with his career. He’s certainly going to get some playing time in Chicago, because they are not good. Will he look just as steady there? Or will some of the warts start to show when he’s not sheltered?
It’s tough to see him go, because developing defensemen is hard, and Englund’s development felt like a real win. I have a hunch that the Avalanche thought they were going to have to waive Englund at some point when they got players back. And if they waived him, they might have gotten word he’d be claimed. Better to get something for him than to lose him for nothing. I think Englund has proven to be a better defenseman than MacDermid, but that’s a whole other thing.
On the ice, I think this is a downgrade…but probably not that big of one. You have to consider the situations they were each in. Englund was in a good spot here in Colorado. He was sheltered and played limited minutes, sometimes next to elite defensemen. Put Johnson in that same situation, and are we looking at much of a difference? Probably not, and the organization knows it because of last season. If the team gets decimated by injuries, Johnson having to play more than he should will not be pretty, but I imagine that would have been the case with Englund too.
In the locker room? That’s why this trade was made. None of this is meant as a slight to Englund, but the team reached the top of the mountain with Johnson. He’s one of their own, and getting him back in that locker room will be a huge boost. I imagine the rest of the squad is very excited to have him back. I mean, just look at that photo? They love him. The same goes for the coaching staff.
Are the Avalanche done tinkering with their defense? I don’t think so. I was of the belief they needed to ADD a defenseman. Swapping out players doesn’t change the situation they are in. I think there’s more left to be done later in the week. If this is all they do on defense, I’ll be very surprised.