Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Closure on the rumor that just won't die

The JStaal for JJohnson Rumor: Part XXII
Yeah, I saw the thing on Eklund last week. I popped off an email to Lyle Richardson asking him if he heard anything. His pointed response was, "Nothing." Dropped an email to DLee asking the same. I could almost feel the simmering hockey blogger-angst coming thru in his response. And that's my Eli Manning riff on the letsgocanes board. So, it's pretty clear where I've come down on what is increasingly becoming a highly contentious non-issue.

So how did the normally level-headed me get to where I distrust the greater intentions of Jack Johnson?

From on March 28:

Johnson, the third overall pick in last summer's NHL Entry Draft, informed
the Hurricanes through his family advisor on Tuesday that he would not turn pro
at this time, even though the Hurricanes made a concerted bid to sign him and
immediately insert him into the NHL team's lineup for the stretch drive and


"Jack thought long and hard about it," said Pat Brisson, the family advisor.
"It was very flattering for him that Carolina was so interested but Jack just
feels his development is best served by staying another year at school."

OBTW: "Family Advisor," Pat Brisson is a high-powered player agent (formerly with IMG) who just happens to be Sidney Crosby's agent. I'm sure he was just doing a little philanthropic, pro-bono spokesman work as a favor to the Johnson family - no real intent to weasel his way to a fat retainer and future chunk of some big Reebok endorsement deal down the line, huh?

From Luke DeCock on June 24:

Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford acknowledged he called Shero to
express his interest. "All I said was, 'If you're going to move the pick, give
me a call,' " Rutherford said.


The Canes remain high on Johnson's ability and potential, but he didn't make any friends (emphasis mine) when he
decided to stay at Michigan for his sophomore season this fall instead of
joining the team for its run to the Stanley Cup.

These are the takes I've been fixated on. Family advisors that remind me all too much of Drew Rosenhaus - reports that JR is frustrated with Johnson's coquettish. These things have festered in my mellon over the months.

Now in Jack's defense, he has been pretty straightforward since day one about his desire play and stay at Michigan. Go back to the Droschak piece on, and you'll find JJ quoted on or about draft day:

"It won't be money," Johnson said. "It will be what I personally think is
best for my development. I don't want to jump the gun too soon. I want to make
sure I do the right thing. I'm pretty sure I'll have the right gut feeling.
There is no rush."

Jump to the N&O on Mar 26, and I think JJ leaves little room for mis-interpretation:

"I think the only way you're going to get me out of here is at gunpoint,"
Johnson told reporters after a win in the conference playoffs."

In the Droschak article, you might also find the real source of JR's frustration lying in some expectation-disconnect that began on day one of the relationship:

Johnson had a Michigan tie on when he went to the podium to shake hands with
the Carolina brass.

"I guess he can take that off," joked
Rutherford. "We'll have discussions with him and his family and try to decide
what is best for him. I would like to have the opportunity to talk to Jack about
signing and getting started in Lowell because I think it would be a huge jump
for him to play in the National Hockey League immediately."

You think maybe JR just overshot on this one from the outset? American kids seem to be different than their Canuck counterparts. NCAA hockey is a big deal. The college experience is a big deal. The Hobey Baker Award, the Beanpot Tourney, Michign v. Wisconsin, the NCAA Frozen Four and now the chance to play big games in the great outdoors - all a pretty compelling ride for a kid who is willing to go to class (sometimes) and wait on the big pay day.

Through it all, I've continued to paint Johnson in my mind as the bad guy in the saga. Maybe it's because while he kept pretty quiet about the thing publically, he let a family advisor (aka, player agent) talk for him. How does that jive with NCAA eligibility regs? Working the hell out of that gray area, I'm guessing. Maybe it's because of the constant pulses and re-sets on this story from a Hurricanes management perspective. I just started to feel like JR (I guy I think is the best in the business) was getting stood up at the altar. Fool me know the rest.

On a totally unscientific level, maybe it's also because Johnson's John Elway-like cocky sneer (Bronco-Elway hating engaged) started working on me. I also was a bit turned off by his thuggish play at the WJC - but rallied to his side when the locals started jumping ugly with him. I've always rooted against sneerers and guys who remind me of Jack Tatum. In the end, maybe it's because I too expected the kid to jump at the chance to play at the highest level when the red carpet was rolled out at his feet...repeatedly.

So, as of today I'm officially backing off on the JJ hating and doubting. JJ was up-front on day one about his intentions and has remained on message ever since. If the relationship is heading for the can, JR seems to be the one driving it there. I think it's time the kid got back some benefit of the doubt. If this ends up being an Eli Manning redoux, the blame might be as much on our beloved GM of the Year as it is on JJ, his pop, and semi-official family advisor, Pat Brissonhaus.

Tis Kismet.

Diverging takes: Red and Black, Sweet tea...


The Acid Queen said...

JJ was up-front on day one about his intentions and has remained on message ever since.

Exactly! Which brings me to your Eli Manning take.

Eli Manning flat-out said "I won't play for the Chargers"--so if you want to draw an NHL comparison, the guy you're looking for is Eric Lindros.

JJ, on the other hand, has said no such thing--and as you yourself said above, he's been up front about his priorities from the outset and hasn't deviated from that.

So I don't see what all the bitching is for.

CasonBlog said...

I think I agree with you...and myself. Papa Manning was the one who told the Chargers (discretely)Eli wouldn't play in SD. The Chargers chose to make that declaration public. You're right, Team Lindros was far more insidious.

My Eli Manning take was based on JR going so public in announcing his frustration - later openly admitting that he shopped JJ to the Pens. To me this seems to parallel the Manning thing. Not so much because of JJ but because of the way JR is going about it.

Again, and based on what we know now, it doesn't seem like this is on Team JJ. JR seems to be the one whose dialog is working to frame things in a contentious light.

But the question remains, Why? JR seems to be a great poker player. Why has this normally reserved GM pursued this track? Possible reasons:

1. It's a simple expectations gap or "failure to communicate" that's been there since day one.

2. There might something Manning-like going on between the camps that we are not privvy to. If this is the case, it might be a card JR is keeping hidden, for obvious reasons.

nuts4pucks said...

I'm not even going to speculate on what kind of politics might be going on behind the scenes. It is my opinion that this is exactly what it looks like. JJ is a kid who dreamed of playing hockey for Michigan and of winning an NCAA Frozen Four. He's a 19 year old kid who is living that part of his dream while he can. Once he turns pro, there's no going back and he has many years to be an adult, so it's okay with me if he wants to be a college kid for a while.

Much ado about nothing!