One of the reasons the Los Angeles Kings dropped out of the Ilya Kovalchuk bidding last summer at $85-million was their desire to put that money towards re-signing their own potential free agents. They accomplished the first step in the process by getting defenceman Jack Johnson to agree to a seven-year contract extension worth $30.5-million - or an average of $4.5 million per season. The official announcement came Saturday night, after the Kings knocked off the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-4 at Staples Centre, a game which marked the halfway point of their season. They'll meet the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night.
Signing Johnson was the first step in locking up their two cornerstones on defence. Next up: Negotiations with Drew Doughty, who finished last year with 59 points, but hasn't been the same offensively this year. Still, Doughty is considered the finest young rearguard in the game and L.A.'s intention is to get him to make a comparable commitment in terms of years as they got from Johnson, who described the negotiations as "actually kind of fun. It wasn't any kind of burden at all, go out and play hockey every night and try to play well and everything else will take care of itself. We talked about numerous options and situations."
Johnson was the second player chosen overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft after his good friend Sidney Crosby, selected originallly by the Carolina Hurricanes. When the Hurricanes couldn't coax Johnson to leave school early and sign a pro contract, they traded him to the Kings for Tim Gleason. Johnson played for the United States in the 2010 Olympics; and along with Doughty, had a sensational playoff against the Vancouver Canucks last spring. On Saturday, he celebrated the new contract by tying a career high with three assists, giving him 12 points in his last 10 games and 16 in the past 16.
No question, this has been his breakout season - and he made it clear that L.A. is where he wanted to be for the long term.
"I had no problem committing that long.," said Johnson. "We were just trying to find something that was reasonable and fair for both sides and I think we're both very happy about it."