Rick Nash remains in Columbus, but Boston did make a solid acquisition on Wednesday as the Bruins added more depth to their blue line and may have found the veteran to round out their defense corps with the signing of Aaron Johnson.
Johnson, who spent last season with Columbus, signed a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 at the NHL level and $105,000 if he plays in the AHL.
Johnson, 29, is a veteran of 281 NHL games, including 56 last season with the Blue Jackets. The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder posted 3-13-16 totals with 26 penalty minutes. He was a minus-12, but that was more a reflection on Columbus’ struggles than anything else, as the Blue Jackets had a league-worst minus-60 goal differential, allowing 262 goals while scoring just 202 en route to finishing with the NHL’s worst record at 29-46-7.
Johnson logged 16:30 of ice time for Columbus, playing regularly on the penalty kill (1:20 a game) and seeing some time on the power play (0:50 a game). He’s put up some offensive numbers with 17 goals and 62 points in his career, but is more of a stay-at-home defenseman and can throw his weight around a bit, as evidenced by the 70 blocked shots and 99 hits he amassed last season.
A left-hand shot, Johnson’s experience could give him the inside track on the final spot on the Boston blue line. The top six appears set with Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid returning and Dougie Hamilton expected to make the leap from juniors to the big club.
Johnson will compete with fellow veteran Garnet Exelby and youngsters Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski for the seventh spot. Krug, who finished last season in Boston after signing out of Michigan State, and Bartkowski would likely be better served playing regularly in Providence than sitting in the press box in Boston, while Exelby has not played in the NHL since the 2009-10 season, spending the last two seasons in the AHL.
Johnson also spent the 2010-11 season in the AHL, posting 9-26-35 totals and a plus-10 rating in 72 games for Nashville’s affiliate in Milwaukee. But he made it back to the NHL last season with Columbus, earning regular ice time with the club that originally drafted him in the third round in 2001.
Johnson made his NHL debut with the Blue Jackets in 2003-04 and has also spent time with the Islanders, Chicago, Calgary and Edmonton.
With both Johnson and Exelby now signed to two-way deals, it appears unlikely that Mike Mottau will get an opportunity to return to his hometown team. The Avon, Mass. native and former Boston College star joined the Bruins after a deadline deal with the Islanders last year and remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent this summer.