Penguins make a sneaky-good move in adding Johnson

Jack Johnson is reportedly joining the Pittsburgh Penguins on a five-year deal. AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

The player: Jack Johnson, 31, defenseman

The terms: five years, $3.25 million annually from the Pittsburgh Penguins

Where does he fit in?

The eye-rolling was palpable when Johnson's name was first linked with the Pittsburgh Penguins. During the past two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Johnson has been an analytics pariah, with a negative possession and goals-for percentage relative to his teammates. He was a healthy scratch last season for the first time in his career. His off-ice drama involving his parents' bad investments of his money and personal bankruptcy has thrown his career off track.

Not to mention his Shattuck-St. Mary's connection with Sidney Crosby that many expected was the reason he was tendered an offer.

So why would the Penguins bring him in for five years? It's based on a little bit of history, and a little bit of hope.

The history is with general manager Jim Rutherford. While GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, Rutherford selected Johnson No. 3 overall in the 2005 draft, but the University of Michigan player declined to turn pro. So in October 2006, Rutherford shipped him to the Los Angeles Kings in a package that brought Tim Gleason to Carolina. At the time, Rutherford said Johnson "is going to be a very, very good, if not great, NHL player." Twelve years later, they'll be reunited.

(And if there's anything we know, it's that Rutherford loves to bring back players he has acquired previously.)

The hope involves Sergei Gonchar. The former NHL standout, now an assistant coach with the Penguins, has been their point person for defenseman development for the past three seasons. He's the guy who took Justin Schultz off the scrap heap and turned him into arguably the best defenseman on the team, depending on which version of Kris Letang shows up each game. He did the same development work with Ian Cole and Jamie Oleksiak. He's the guy who will be tasked with getting Johnson somewhere closer to the 40-point player he was back in 2014-15.

I wouldn't bet against them.

Does this deal make sense?

Positionally, it gives the Penguins a fourth left-handed defenseman to go with Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Oleksiak.

Financially, that's Radko Gudas money for a reclamation project. Yes, the term is a bit of a surprise, considering he'll be 36 years old when it's done, but the money works.

Overall grade: B-plus

It's a gamble on a player whom Rutherford is confident in, to continue a trend in which the Penguins flip struggling defensemen into blue-line stalwarts.

There are plenty of detractors for this move -- many of them Penguins fans. We're a bit more optimistic that the change in scenery does him good. In Gonchar we trust.