I want to begin by noting that it’s pretty funny that this latest, greatest round of beef between the Blue Jackets and Penguins is all over Jack Johnson, of all players, a bottom-pairing defenseman on the wrong side of 30 and coming off his worst season as a pro. That said: Give me the beef!
On Sunday, Pittsburgh signed Johnson after seven season in Columbus that ended poorly, with Johnson being scratched in the playoffs. OK, fine, the Penguins have generally done well with defensive reclamation projects, and Johnson, a former third-overall draft pick, has talent. Oh, and Sidney Crosby likes him, don’t forget that. But the contract is pretty inexplicable: a five-year, $16.25 million contract that will run until Johnson is 36 years old. Penguins fans hate the move, and for statistically sound reasons.
Johnson, on the other hand, is excited. “I’ve been looking to be in a winning culture,” he said, which is fair considering the Penguins have won two Cups in the last three years and the Blue Jackets have never won a playoff series and oh shit look out John Tortorella heard you:
“[F]or him to backhand slap us like this is utter bullshit, and he should know better.“No one wishes anything bad to happen to him and his family. We wish him the best. But for him to put it the way he put it today is bullshit.”
Tortorella went off on Johnson’s comment to The Athletic, which thankfully printed the Columbus coach’s rant in full and without censorship (there are seven fucks and three shits). Torts referenced Johnson’s battle with his parents over their misuse of his money, which led him to declare bankruptcy and shut them out of his life.
Tortorella said he is extra-annoyed because he and the Blue Jackets organization “bent over backward” to aid Johnson through a trying time.
“That’s what pisses me off,” he said. “He doesn’t have enough balls to call me back, because I’ve tried to get in touch with him. You don’t shit on an organization that’s done nothing but try to help you. We all know Jack has had some problems along the way here; it’s very well-chronicled. All we’ve done is try to fucking help him.
“I love the fucking guy. I’ve had him on the Olympic team. I get him on the World Cup team. I love the guy. But for him to do this is ridiculous. He has got to start pointing the finger at himself, not other people.
“If I’m a (former) teammate of his and I play against him next year…my gosh…”
Whoo! This is the good stuff. Not that it necessarily takes a lot for a player to get on Tortorella’s bad side.
But the anger in Columbus wasn’t limited to Johnson. Penguin GM Jim Rutherford, upon signing Johnson, made reference to Johnson’s playoff benching and hinted, ambiguously, to explanations other than his play. “He was a healthy scratch at the end of the season,” Rutherford said. “I know the reason why. It wasn’t because of how he was playing.”
Torts, do you have an opinion on that?
“[T]o have a general manager question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a fucking magician.”
“The thing that pisses me off the most is a general manager in this league questioning and talking about our decision-making. Shut the fuck up!”
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was more diplomatic about Rutherford’s theorizing, but still obviously angry. He said he’d be calling Rutherford for an explanation, and gave these comments basically saying Nope, Johnson sucked, that’s why we benched him, there’s no hidden reason:
This is all very spicy for NHL free agency. But maybe we’ve turned a corner into a new, entertaining future, thanks to this feud and the biggest free-agency move in a generation? Given that I’m about to go write three more LeBron blogs in a row, probably not. But this was still fun.