"The Columbus Blue Jackets have acquired defenseman Jack Johnson and the Los Angeles Kings' first-round selection in either 2012 or 2013 for forward Jakub Voracek, the eighth-overall pick in the 2011 draft and a third-round pick in the 2011 draft …"
Read that again. Digest it. Stripped of context and conditions, and taken at face value, it wouldn't be a bad trade for the Columbus Blue Jackets, given that Voracek was an RFA and Johnson is signed through 2018 with a $4,357,143 cap hit.
Plus, he played in the Big 10! Just for the wrong colors, in Buckeye country.
Alas, that's not how it played out. The Jackets shipped that latter package to the Philadelphia Flyers last summer for Jeff Carter; on Thursday, they moved Carter to the Kings for the former package, ending an injury-plagued, innuendo-laden 39-game career in Columbus.
Johnson's a good defenseman. Hell, he's the most talented offensive defenseman the Jackets have ever had on the roster. On special teams, he'll be a revelation: He had 28 points on the power play last season; that's a higher total than any Columbus player since David Vyborny's 32 power-play points in 2005-06.
What Jack Johnson is not: a No. 1 center. That's what Columbus GM Scott Howson traded for last summer, saying, "We've never had a No. 1 center in Columbus and now we have one and are thrilled."
Yeah, about that …
The problem is that the Jackets traded for Carter about a week before they traded for the negotiating rights for James Wisniewski and then signed him to a 6-year, $33 million contract. With Johnson, the Blue Jackets now have two very good but not great defensemen that are better known for their offense than their defense. This is problematic when (a) keeping the puck out of the net has been the season's greatest failing and (b) the team is fourth from last in offense.
The Rick Nash trade, when it happens, will likely rectify the No. 1 center issue, whether it's Brandon Dubinsky from the Rangers or Joe Pavelski from the Sharks or some other asset coming back for the captain. But that's trading a top line wing for (presumably) a top-line center; and will any semblance of defensive defense or goaltending come back for Nash after it had no home in the Carter trade?
Personnel wise, Blue Jackets fans can be understandably pleased about this Carter deal. He had to go, and Howson got a first-round pick and a significant roster player for him — a better one than, say, Trevor Daley, whom the Dallas Stars were rumored to have anted up. Taken as a whole, the Voracek/Johnson trade described above is a win for Howson.
Philosophically, though, it's maddening. A presumptive No. 1 center was traded for an offensive defenseman, which is a redundancy after Wisniewski's signing. It's an indictment of how far off the rails this franchise's plans have rolled.
For the Los Angeles Kings, let's start with the obvious:
Jeff Carter. Mike Richards. Los Angeles. Party rock is in the house.
The best hope here is that these two Dry Islanders have received a hell of an education in the last year; the Flyers' deconstruction of their locker room snapping them into some burgeoning level of maturity and comprehension of consequences.
GM Dean Lombardi believes that Carter's character issues have been overblown. There's also reason to believe that Carter's in more of a comfort zone in LA than he ever was in Columbus: From Richards to Simon Gagne to assistant coach John Stevens, who coached Carter in the AHL and NHL, to Ron Hextall, who was with the Flyers when Carter came through the system.
Here's Lombardi on the trade: