Penguins Sign Johnson And Cullen, Four Others

Free agency brought the additions of defenseman Jack Johnson, former Penguin Matt Cullen and four others to Pittsburgh.

Shelby Cassesse
July 01, 2018 - 4:35 pm
Jack Johnson signs with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

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PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - The Penguins made six additions at the start of free agency Sunday. 

As expected, former Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson signed a five-year contract worth a total of $16.25 million. Johnson was in Pittsburgh Sunday for his introductory press conference. 

"My wife and I came in today to start looking at homes and we are absolutely thrilled to be here," he said. "It just seemed like a perfect fit in every which way and I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to be here and to be a Pittsburgh Penguin. You know, my wife and I said it checks all of the boxes for us. It's a great place to bring the family, great opportunity for hockey.” 

Johnson struggled in Columbus last season, scoring three goals and 11 points in 77 games. Upon the arrival of former Penguin Ian Cole in Columbus, Johnson saw his playing time dwindle until he became a healthy scratch in the playoffs. 

"There were a few things that didn't go according to plan," he said. "Some of those things I prefer not to discuss in the media, but I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and not coming to an extension in Columbus just led me to this opportunity and I couldn't be happier and I wouldn’t trade a thing that happened to be standing here right now." 

Johnson and Sidney Crosby are long-time friends, as the two won a U.S. National Championship with the Shattuck-Saint Mary's Boarding School Midget Major AAA team during the 2002-03 season. 

Johnson said Crosby reached out to him about joining the Penguins. 

"We had a short conversation about it,” he said. “He said he'd like to give me a sales job on coming and I saved him the time and said you don't have to do much of a sales job on me." 

Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford, who drafted Johnson with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005, said the analytics did not bother Penguins coaches, and they feel comfortable with what Johnson can provide to the Pittsburgh blue line.

"I beg to differ with whoever asked the question about how he had a bad year last year," he said. "I don't think he had a bad year. He was a healthy scratch at the end of the season. I know the reason why. It wasn't because of how he was playing. Actually (Mike Sullivan) watched the three games leading up to when he was put in the press box, and we felt he actually played pretty well."

Rutherford also confirmed the Penguins signed center Matt Cullen to a one-year contract with an average annual value of $650,000. Cullen played for the Penguins for their Stanley Cup seasons in 2016 and 2017, scoring a combined 29 goals and 63 points. Following the 2017 season, he signed with Minnesota where he scored 11 goals and 22 points. 

"Depth. Balance," Rutherford said about what Cullen adds to the team. "We have center icemen that can play the wing. I know when I called him the other day, it was (the day after Riley Sheahan was signed). He said to me when he heard that, he went to bed that night and said 'well I guess I have no chance of going to Pittsburgh.'"

The Penguins also signed forward Jimmy Hayes, defensemen Zach Trotman and Stefan Elliott, and goaltender John Muse to one-year, two-way contracts worth an average annual value of $650,000 at the NHL level. 

Trotman spent last year with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and played three NHL games with the Penguins.

Hayes is the most veteran of the four signees, with 334 games of NHL experience. The 28-year-old spent last season with the New Jersey Devils, scoring nine points in 33 games. He has also spent time with the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers and Bostin Bruins.

Elliott's last NHL game was during the 2015-16 season with Nashville. The 27-year-old spent the past two seasons overseas, playing for the Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL and HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Hockey League. 

Muse split last season between the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Reading Royals of the ECHL, minor league affiliates of the Philadelphia Flyers.