“It’s never good to let things fester, hold everything in,” Johnson told reporters in Columbus Wednesday, confirming Aaron Portzline’s report that he has asked management to deal him.
“I’ve been holding a lot of things in for many years here. Yeah, it’s out. I own it. I have nothing to hide. That’s the situation.
“I hope people can understand that it’s a situation where you’re just trying to do what’s best for your family — me, my wife and kids. I think any husband or father can relate to that.”
At the player’s request, Johnson met one-on-one with head coach John Tortorella, who has also worked with his alternate captain on Team USA, to clear the air.
“He won’t lie. He’s a stand-up man,” Tortorella told reporters. “He didn’t come out and say, ‘I want to be traded.’ It was just, ‘I think some stuff’s probably going to start coming out along the way [to the trade deadline]. I want to talk to you face-to-face. I love it here. I want to improve as a player. I want it to work here, but I also have to think about my family.’
“I don’t blame him for that. I don’t … and I really respect him for his honesty.”
The honest truth is that Johnson is 31 years old. He’s a third-overall draft pick who’s in the 12th season of his NHL career and has relatively little to show for his efforts financially. Johnson claimed bankruptcy in 2014 after following poor investment guidance from his mom and dad.
Johnson is earning $4,357,143 this season, after which he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Extension talks with Columbus hit a standstill, so Johnson wants to join a team with which he can ink a rich, long-term extension.
The defenceman would’ve rather kept his wish quiet but said his teammates have been supportive and he is focused, as always, on helping the Jackets win.
“I walked in today and nothing’s changed,” Johnson said. “I think all my teammates understand the situation my parents put me in is not a desirable one, and it’s definitely not a good one.”
From the club’s standpoint, Columbus, which is looking for forward help during its playoff race, may be selling low on Johnson.
The market features several other left-shot defencemen — Ian Cole, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Niklas Hjalmarsson — and Johnson’s numbers have shrunk.
Johnson has two goals and five assists through 46 games. His possession metrics sit below 50 per cent, his ice time (19:24) is the lowest of his career, and his plus/minus (-5) has dropped 28 points from the career-best +23 he posted in 2016-17.
Surely, the fact he needs a job for 2018-19 has impacted his play.
“I would like to think it hasn’t, but it’s something I think about and talk about with my wife all the time,” Johnson said. “Who knows? It’s a big part of my life. This is my livelihood, my job, and how I’m going to take care of my family. So, to answer that question, I don’t know, but I try my best to come in here every day and play hockey. This locker room and that sheet of ice is my sanctuary.”
Johnson has spent chunks of the season down on the Blue Jackets’ third pairing but has been elevated to the second unit alongside veteran David Savard for Thursday’s game against the Dallas Stars.
“Jack loves it here. His family loves it here,” Tortorella said. “So if we get him playing better, and maybe win some games, who knows where it all goes here?”
The trade deadline is Feb. 26.