The Jack Johnson free agency saga
This parody guest post is from Brandon Cohen. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.
Jack Johnson signed a one year, $1.15M deal with the New York Rangers on October 9, 2020. Many have wondered how the Johnson contract came to be. We were able to get an inside peek at what led to the signing. This is the story.
A Beautiful Beginning
When Jack Johnson first signed with the Penguins, pundits across the league criticized the agreement. Jim Rutherford, however, was proud of the signing.
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford: Signing Jack Johnson was actually the first accidental signing of my career. I was trying to reach Jack Johnson, the musician. I’ve always loved his music ever since I first heard “Banana Pancakes.”
Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan: My first time meeting Jim, he had three Jack Johnson posters on his office wall. Before every conversation we had, we had to listen to Banana Pancake. When I left, what song did he put on? You can guess it.
Jim Rutherford: I have always been a big Jack Johnon guy. But when I called him to try to book him for my 93rd birthday party, I reached Jack, the hockey player, instead.
Jack Johnson: When Jim called me for the first time I was confused. Typically calls go through my agents. But I answered the phone, “hello, this is hockey player Jack Johnson,” and he seemed happy to hear from me.
Jim Rutherford: When Jack answered the phone calling himself “hockey player Jack Johnsson,” that’s when I knew I had a hockey player on my hands.
Johnson signed a five year, $16.25M contract to join the Penguins. Jack Johnson the musician continued making music, I assume.
A Bittersweet Ending
The Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round of the 2020 NHL playoffs. Following the round, many pointed the finger at Jack Johnson and his bloated contract.
Jack Johnson: The loss to Montreal really hurt. I thought we were the better team, but we just couldn’t stop their snipers like Jeff Petry.
General Manager Jim Rutherford: I was pissed off when we lost to Montreal. Pissed off. Then everyone started pointing fingers at Jack, and I got even madder. I knew it had to stop.
Rutherford expressed to the media that Johnson was not a problem and that Justin Schultz deserved plenty of blame for the defensive pairing’s struggles.
Justin Schultz: Have you ever been on a really long hike that’s upwards the whole way while carrying a very large backpack on your back the entire time, but it somehow doesn’t even have any water in it? That’s what it felt like playing with Jack.
Jack Johnson: I loved playing with Justin.
When rumors began swirling that Johnson could be bought out, Rutherford once again noted that Johnson’s contract was not the issue.
Jim Rutherford: I felt it was very unfair that people were scapegoating Jack Johnson, so I did what would best show that he wasn’t the problem and bought him out of his contract.
With Johnson’s contract being bought out, he still had to pass through waivers, a likely formality considering his reputation across the league.
Jack Johnson: My agent called me and told me I cleared. I told him I didn’t know what that word meant.
Justin Schultz: First time for everything.
A New Beginning
With Johnson having cleared, it was time for free agency. Johnson was eligible to sign with a new team on October 9th.
Jack Johnson: It’s funny, people always talk about players talking to teams before the legal signing period. In fact, I heard from a lot of colleagues that they were already hearing from teams. But I didn’t hear from a single team. I think that speaks volumes about teams understanding my character and wanting to follow the rules.
Anonymous GM: No, we just weren’t interested.
Anonymous GM #2: No, we just weren’t interested.
For the sake of being concise, we have chosen to only share two of the anonymous GM’s explanations. We also opted not to include the AHL GM’s who reached out on their own.
Once October 9th hit, a team entered the fold.
New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton: We recently bought out Marc Staal and were in the market for an absolutely terrible defenseman to play on the penalty kill. I scoured the statistics looking for the worst option we could find.
Assistant General Manager Chris Drury: Everybody knows that in order to be good at penalty killing, you have to be absolutely awful at the sport of hockey. Jeff knows that better than anyone.
Jeff Gorton: One of the first things Glen Sather ever told me was, if a player can handle the puck in his own zone, he cannot play on the penalty kill. I make my children recite that every night before bed.
With the Rangers in the market for a defenseman who could not play defense, an obvious name came to mind.
Jeff Gorton: Jack Johnson seemed like a natural fit from the moment he was bought out by the Pittsburgh Penguins. What says “I am terrible at hockey but will be on an NHL roster anyway” like being bought out by another team? It was perfect.
Chris Drury: Ask Jeff to tell you about his first conversation with Jack.
Jeff Gorton: So I called Jack Johnson, ready to talk hockey, and he answers the phone “this is hockey player Jack Johnson.” I was amazed. I have been a fan of the musician Jack Johnson ever since his “Banana Pancakes” days, but I did not think he could play hockey. Hearing this Jack Johnson thought he could, that made the decision easier than ever.
Jack Johnson: I was excited to hear from Jeff. He spoke about how I would get heavy penalty killing minutes and potentially play on a pair with Adam Fox.
Editor’s Note: Adam Fox originally could not be reached for this story. When we finally reached him and asked him his feelings about playing on a pair with Jack Johnson, a screaming noise was heard before Fox hung up.
Jack Johnson: I am very excited to be a New York Ranger. I plan on bringing my character, etc, to the ice every night.