|Jack Johnson of LA Kings (photo: K. Spatz)|
Kings defenseman Jack Johnson has few worries away from the rink, especially after signing a seven-year, $30.5-million contract extension back in January.
So, he was free to spend his summer on things other than stressing about a the trials and tribulations that can come with negotiating a new deal with his employer.
Instead, one of the many areas he found himself involved in was investing in a gym business back home in Michigan.
“I did it just because I get a key to the gym,” joked Johnson. “I like to spend my time there. I have fun hanging out there and have a great relationship with all the trainers. They’re almost like family like now. Plus, my little brother gets to train there for free.”
The former first round draft pick says that as camp continues the focus is on cleaning up his game before the season begins in a few weeks.
“I’m making sure my puck handling gets back up to speed, keeping my head up, getting out of summer hockey mode,” explained Johnson.
And then there’s that little thing called plus-minus that pops up from time to time. His minus-19 posted during his rookie season has pretty much held steady over the last four years – including a team worst minus-21 last year. Perhaps, more concerning, on a team known for it’s strong defensive play, Johnson was the only member of LA’s starting defensemen to post a minus as the season total.
Like most things, it seems to just roll off Johnson’s back.
“Plus-minus? I don’t lose any sleep over that. As long as the coaches keep saying that I’m playing well and they keep playing me good minutes, that’s all the reassurance I need from them. If they see anything wrong, they let me know.”
To prevent people from taking those statements the wrong way, he quickly added – “I don’t want to say that I really don’t care. Are there minuses that are my fault? Absolutely. But sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it. So, it’s something I don’t lose sleep over. If there’s something I can improve on, then I try to improve on it. But, I’m not worried about it.”
On one hand, coach Terry Murray agrees with him…
“When I first got into coaching, I had Rod Langway in Washington,” Murray began to reflect on. “He won the Norris Trophy two years in a row and there was a time there in that second year when he was a minus player during the middle of the season. We I asked him, ‘Are you looking at these numbers, how is it affecting you?’ He said, ‘No, I’m fine. You’re going to be out against the best players, you’re going to get beat, you’re going to have a line change or there’s going to be situations when you’re playing a lot of minutes and you’re going to end up with a minus and you’re going to end up a minus player.'”
He then added the all important BUT…
“Take it to the next step – if you have big numbers, then clearly you’re going to take a look at it and address it.”
That’s exactly what Murray planned on doing with Johnson at the end of last season. Only, that meeting hasn’t taken place yet because Johnson went off to play for Team USA at the World Championships. Thus, his official exit meeting with the Kings never happened.
Murray says he’s talked with GM Dean Lombardi and the coaching staff about it and they’re “definitely going to have (the meeting) as we get into the latter part of training camp.”
As for some of the areas they’ll be talking about, Murray shared more of his thoughts on Johnson’s play last season…
“I personally feel his game has improved on the checking and defensive side of the game. The one thing I want to see him continue with this year, that I thought he backed off on around January last year, is that attitude of going after guys, pinning and sealing, and really being nasty one-on-one. I think you get into that stick-checking, softer play by him, and now players are going to take advantage of it when he’s out there against the best players.”
Murray continued to talk about his expectations for next season…
“There are little things I see that can be brought back into his game – because it was there. Things that can be brought back in with good focus and concentration – the close, be hard and be that nasty guy that’s going to lean on people in the three-on-three and down low.”
For any critics who might be quick to try and connect the dots and suggest Johnson’s second-half performance had anything to do with a player backing off a bit after signing a big money deal, Murray says no way.
“Absolutely not. That has nothing to do with it. He’s a player that’s very proud of his game. He loves to be a player who’s going to be depended on, relied on at any time. He wants to be the top guy. That’s an attitude he’s brought with him from way back in college. Money has nothing to do with it. He wants to be the best that he can be.”
Offensively, the talented blueliner had a career high last season with 42 points – numbers Johnson says should be higher this season, as the Kings power play improves.
We’ll have more at that angle as camp continues this week.
Also, no word yet if Johnson spent some of his new income on that bald eagle tattoo Matt Greene recommended for him. Guess we’ll have to chase that story down too.