Cost of defensemen: Jack Johnson effect

I thought this item at Puck Prospectus would be of interest because it questions whether Jack Johnson is worth his big new contract. The cap hit for Johnson is $4.4 M despite his having the worst goals against rate per 60 minutes of any Kings' defenseman this season or last.

Whether Johnson deserves his new contract seems relevant to pricing a new contract for Pitkanen or a Pitkanen replacement as well as valuing Tim Gleason. Also, Johnson and Gleason provide interesting reference points for figuring out the mystery of Pitkanen's value as a high-risk, high-reward player. As you'll see below, Johnson is the very definition of that type of player. I think the numbers below also say something about whether Gleason has really had a subpar season, as a lot of us have suggested.

If I'm interpreting this chart correctly at, Tim Gleason's GA per 60 at ES is 2.16. Jack Johnson's is 3.24 and Pitkanen's GA/60 is 3.02. Gleason looks like a bargain at $2.75 M. The + / - per 60 minutes when on the ice at ES numbers look better for both Gleason and Pitkanen than for Johnson. Gleason is +.17, Pitkanen -0.27 and Johnson -0.44.

The huge difference in Johnson's favor is of course in scoring on the power play, where he generates 6.03 points per 60 minutes. Gleason doesn't figure on the PP at all. Pitkanen generates 2.26 points per 60 minutes on the PP. (Corvo generates 5.45 points and McBain 3.25. For the curious, Babchuk generates 4.55.)

Even strength, Johnson has been on the ice for 38 goals for and 44 against. Drew Doughty's corresponding numbers are 42 and 28. Gleason's numbers are 28 goals for and 26 against, best on the Canes and two goals better than Doughty on goals against. Pitkanen's numbers are 30 GF on the ice ES and 33 against ES.

The numbers on Pitkanen in different situations make an interesting study. On the power play, he's been on for 13 goals for and 0 goals against. On the penalty kill, he's been on for 4 goals for and 10 against, besides the even strength numbers of 30 goals for and 33 against. On the power play, Johnson has been on the ice for 22 goals for and 3 goals against. Penalty kill, 1 goal for and 2 goals against. For the whole season so far, Johnson has averaged only 1:06 TOI shorthanded. Gleason has averaged 2:58 and Pitkanen 1:48. Pitkanen has had 3:59 TOI per game on the power play, Johnson 3;56, Gleason 0:32.

So at this stage, Johnson is the worst of the 3 defensemen at even strength. The Kings don't send him out that much on the PK. He generates a staggering 22 PP goals but also allows 3 shorthanded coming back. When you look just at goals against in all situations, Johnson brings up the rear with 46, Pitkanen has 43 and Gleason 37. When you add up the goals for and against in all situations, Johnson comes out best at -7, while Pitkanen and Gleason are both -9. But Gleason plays far more in shorthanded situations than Pitkanen, who plays more shorthanded than Johnson. Down a man, you're expected to operate at a deficit. (BTW, there is a chink in Drew Doughty's armor. On the PK, his +/- per 60 is -9.56. Pitkanen's is -6.02 and Gleason's -5.43.)

So who's a more valuable defenseman? Gleason, the guy who plays most in tough situations and has a 9 goal deficit on the season? Pitkanen, the guy who plays in all situations, though less shorthanded than Gleason, and has a 9 goal deficit? Or Johnson, who plays hardly at all in the toughest situations and has a 7 goal deficit for the season?

For people who can't stand the risks that come with Pitkanen, consider how you'd feel if he'd allowed 3 goals against when the Canes had the power play and 2 goals against when on the PK despite playing very little shorthanded, plus allowing 11 more goals at even strength than he has. That would be Jack Johnson, the $4.4 M defenseman whose team is +0.66 per 60 when he's OFF THE ICE and -0.44 when HE'S ON THE ICE. You've got to ask just how much of a risk Pitkanen really is when most of his deficit in goals against comes on the PK.

Johnson is a spectacular offensive player but still does considerably more harm than good even though he's shielded from the risks of PK time. By comparison, Pitkanen is a more versatile player and remarkably low in risk, if you consider that in all situations, he's been on the ice for 4 goals more for the Canes than against. Gleason is low risk/low reward, if by reward you mean goals scored while he's on the ice. But if you take your reward in the form of +/-, the rewards Gleason offers are the highest of the 3.

It would be great if the Canes had Drew Doughty, but they'd never be able to afford him. Can they afford a replacement for Pitkanen or win if they have to accept a downgrade?

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