Jack Johnson, A USA Hockey Love Story

Christian Petersen

USA Hockey loves Jack Johnson. Why?

One of the more notable omissions from the Team USA hockey roster was defenseman Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He skated for Team USA in the last Olympics. He has participated in the World Championships, World Junior Championships, and the U-18 tournament. He came up through the US National Team Development Program. Through and through, Jack Johnson has been a staple of American hockey for a while now.

When he didn't make the team a lot of people were surprised. In the infamous Scott Burnside article he repeatedly comes back to the agonizing discussions the selection committee had about what to do with Johnson. He starts with the initial discussions:

Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers and Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets are considered locks.

From the get-go it was assumed that Johnson would be on the roster. They initially had apprehension about what to do with Johnson because of the abundance of left shooting defensemen they were considering. Otherwise, they had no documented concerns.

In the next meeting the tide began to turn against Johnson. When they discussed locks for the roster his name was no longer mentioned. David Poile had two comments to add to the discussion as noted by Burnside:

"He never seems to be living up to his potential or to his play. I'm getting this consistently across the board," Poile says.

and

"He's not a player that's tracking correctly," Poile says.

Brian Burke and Dean Lombardi were still squarely in his corner, but the tide had begun to turn. What you begin to see is that the committee as a whole gives Johnson a significantly large amount of support, much more than you would expect given his performance in the NHL.

By the time of the next meeting Johnson appears to be all but off of the radar.

Continuing on the discussion that began on the last call, the dilemma over Jack Johnson continues. "There's something missing with Jack this year," Poile says.

"His gap is terrible right now. It's like he's got no confidence," Burke says.

"If he knew where he was on this board right now, it would kill him," Dean Lombardi adds.

Poile asks if they are being too hard on Jack Johnson, but no one rises to Johnson's rescue.

"He's having a bad year. He needs to get his s--- together," Dale Tallon says.

The group wavered a bit, but ultimately it appears that the coaching staff had some pull in the matter of what to do with Johnson.

Poile points out one potential fly in the Johnson ointment, and that's the fact the coaching staff as a whole weren't all that enthused about having him on the team given his uneven play this season.

The committee repeatedly discussed how off Jack Johnson's game was, but it appears that the final decision was made with the heavy support of the coaching staff led by Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tyler Dellow dug into this curious bit of information in a post linked here. He made two very interesting observations about the coaching staff's role in the process.

The sort of amazing thing about the reference to the coaches there is that Todd Richards, who coaches, uh, Columbus, is part of the coaching group. We’re sort of playing telephone here but it’s kind of surprising to see "the coaches" cited as a source of concern about Johnson when one of them coaches him.

Johnson's coach, Todd Richards, is on the Team USA coaching staff. His player is brought up in a negative light in one of the more transparent articles you will see published, but the information is generically attributed to "the coaching staff". The money part of his post is as follows:

I was struck by the coincidence of Johnson’s games against the Pens and his falling down the Team USA depth chart two days later so I took a look. It turns out that he was on the ice for four goals against in those games with a goalie in the net, along with an empty netter.

Johnson got shredded by the Penguins right before he slid off of the Team USA depth chart. Bylsma had a front row seat. Richards had a front row seat all season. It would be quite the coincidence for these two events to not be related.

The most confounding part of the entire Jack Johnson saga is that none of this should have mattered. Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert summed it up on Twitter:

The point isn't that Johnson got snubbed. The point isn't that Team USA agonized over whether or not to put a borderline player on the roster for several months. The point is that it never should have gotten to that point because Johnson isn't that good of a player.

Prior to the trade deadline in March I published this post on Defending Big D. There is little reason to go through the post point by point again, but the main idea is that Johnson is not a very good player. He has been living off of his high draft status for most of his career, and now we can see that his Olympic hopes hinged on both that promise and the type of person he is.

From the Burnside article:

It's not that Johnson is considered "Captain America," but the group knows the compete level they'll get from him, and it's clear there is some difficulty in letting go of a player about whom so much was both thought and assumed from the outset.

I came across this article from a few weeks back by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch. For starters, the title is "Jack Johnson a plus despite his minus". The entire article is about plus minus so we need to take it with a grain of salt, but the tone of Johnson's quotes is telling.

That stat is going to take a dip for everybody if you're losing more game than winning. I don't put a ton of merit into it. If the coaches keep putting me out against the other team's top lines, I must be doing something right.

He comes across as a very unassuming guy. USA Hockey loves him for the type of competitor he is, the fact that they view him as a low-maintenance player, and that they know they will get everything they have from him. Unfortunately all that he has to give isn't as much as some believe.

Team USA made the right decision in leaving him off of the roster. Now, they could have done a better job of replacing him on the roster by naming Dustin Byfuglien or Keith Yandle, but the fact that they decided to leave Johnson at home is a positive development.

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