Johnson on reported trade request: 'I have nothing to hide'
Tortorella and Blue Jackets' veteran address recent news, say it's not an issueby Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
The television cameras and microphones had mostly peeled off, taken to another side of the Blue Jackets' locker room.
It was Wednesday evening, the last day of a five-day bye for Columbus, and Jack Johnson stood in front of his locker stall after practice at Nationwide Arena.
Johnson, a veteran defenseman who's struggled this season, addressed a report last week in The Athletic that said he has requested to be traded.
"It's never good to let things fester, hold everything in," Johnson said. "I've been holding a lot of things in for many years here. Yeah, it's out. I own it, and I have nothing to hide. That's the situation. Like I said before, you're just trying to do what's best for your family … I think any husband or father can relate to that."
Unless he signs a contract extension with the Blue Jackets, or gets traded and signs an extension with a different team, Johnson will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He's a team-oriented guy, but there's also the business side of professional sports that demands players also think of themselves.
Johnson's next contract, wherever it takes him, might be his final multi-year deal in the NHL. He's 31 now, turning that age a day after his reported trade request was made public, and there's a measure of uncertainty about his next contract.
Johnson isn't old, but he's currently logging his 13th season in the NHL - a league that continues to get younger and faster, seemingly, by the day. He's a dad, a husband, an eager family man, and he's also wading through a highly-publicized bankruptcy situation.
There's a lot on Johnson's plate right now, and has been all season.
"Jack is starting his family, young family," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said, using roughly 1,300 words Wednesday to extoll Johnson's virtues and emphasize their relationship wouldn't change. "He's a human being. Of course, when he's at the end of his contract, and some of the things that have gone on in Jack's life, sure he thinks about that … and why wouldn't he? But we trust Jack, in that he puts that away and tries to play the right way."
That trust will be on display Thursday, when the Blue Jackets return from the break by hosting the Dallas Stars (7 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM). Tortorella said he's putting Johnson back with longtime defense partner, David Savard, after splitting them up in December.
Tortorella said he sees the big picture with Johnson's situation, which includes the veteran's side of things. He's coached Johnson for two seasons prior to this in Columbus, and internationally with USA Hockey.
They had a 1-on-1 meeting last week, prior to the Jackets' 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, in their final game before the break. Johnson requested it, and he cleared the air with his coach.
"That's what Jack's about," Tortorella said. "He won't lie. He's a stand-up man. That's why I kind of … I moved an 'A' to him [as an alternate captain], because I just wanted his attitude and his preparation, and just the pro that he is. It doesn't surprise me. I think it happens more the other way, where guys kind of hold it in."
Johnson was done holding things inside.
"He didn't come out and say, 'I want to be traded,'" Tortorella said. "It was just, 'I think some stuff's probably going to start coming out along the way [to the NHL Trade Deadline]. I want to talk to you face-to-face. I love it here. I want to improve as a player. I want it to work here, but I also have to think about my family.' I don't blame him for that. I don't … and I really respect him for his honesty."
Johnson was also straight forward Wednesday.
He said it's a struggle to compartmentalize the contract situation, and couldn't definitively say it hasn't affected his play.
"I would like to think it hasn't, but it's something I think about and talk about with my wife all the time," he said. "I'd like to sit here and say it hasn't, but who knows? It's a big part of my life. This is my livelihood. So, to answer that question, I don't know, but I try my best to come in here every day and play hockey."
He continued, looking around a room he's inhabited since Feb. 23, 2012, when the Blue Jackets traded former center Jeff Carter to get him from the Los Angeles Kings.
"This locker room and sheet of ice is kind of my sanctuary, where I try to just play hockey and not think about all that," Johnson said. "The business side of hockey sucks. The business side of sports sucks … and something like that, that goes out public, isn't good for anybody. But that's the business side of it, and that's unfortunate."
This is Johnson's sixth season with the Blue Jackets. It's also his toughest, statistically. Through 46 games, he has two goals and five assists. His average ice time (19:24) is the lowest of his NHL career, and his plus/minus rating (minus-5), is 28 points lower than last year, when he finished with a career-high plus-23.
Asked if he's thought about last season at all, comparing and contrasting his play then to now, Johnson nodded.
"I think a lot of us have said that," he said, referring to multiple Blue Jackets players struggling to match their numbers this season. "You try to go about it in the same way, but I've had a lot of good seasons and I'm very proud of my whole career. I know that I have a lot to give, so I think that's kind of what's brought me to this point where I'm at now."
Where he's at now, in essence, is hockey limbo. Johnson is waiting for his future to become clearer, short and long term, while the Jackets are waiting for him to play like he has in the past.
"You never really know what's going on with a guy when he walks into the room every day," Johnson told BlueJackets.com. "Some people just think, 'Oh, well, things aren't going well for him.' You think, 'Oh, c'mon, he's just got to do this or that,' and you never really know what's going on behind closed doors. But that's a side of sports that's huge, and if guys are emotionally weighed down or not, it can snowball."
His goal is to melt that snow ball, little by little. If it's with the Blue Jackets, fine. If it's with another team, that's fine too.
It's out now. He owns it. There's nothing to hide.
"I've tried to do my very best," Johnson said. "I play professional sports. You're expected to perform, and I expect the same of myself."