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Johnson returns for second year

BY MARK GIANNOTTO

Published September 18, 2006

As the saying goes, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

And that's exactly what the Carolina Hurricanes did with their contract proposal to 2005 first-round draft choice, Michigan sophomore Jack Johnson.

But Johnson has again rejected a contract proposal from Carolina, opting instead to play out his sophomore season with Michigan, The Michigan Daily has confirmed.

"We want to have him on the Hurricanes," Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We think that Jack is going to learn more at the pro level than he would with another year at Michigan. The sooner he starts, the sooner he is going to become acclimated to the NHL."

Over the past week, Johnson talked with Rutherford and Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette about joining the Hurricanes when they begin training camp for the 2006-07 season.

"I just felt more comfortable coming back to school," Johnson said. "I talked to coach Laviolette, and he asked me to come join (Carolina). But I'm not ready to leave (Michigan) at the 11th hour, a couple weeks before the season starts. I just don't think that's the right thing to do. It's not fair to the program."

This is the third time in less than a year that Carolina has tried to get Johnson to sign a contract. After the World Junior Championships last January, the Hurricanes offered the defenseman a deal that reportedly would have added him to Carolina's roster for the remainder of the season with the assurance that he would receive playing time.

Following Michigan's first-round exit from the NCAA tournament last April, Johnson rejected a deal that would have added him to the Hurricanes' playoff roster (Carolina went on to win the Stanley Cup).

"Our reports on Jack's progress indicate that he would be one of our top six defenseman, and he would be given an opportunity to be on the power play," Rutherford said.

Because of Johnson's repeated rejections, rumors swirled around June's 2006 NHL Draft that Carolina would trade the rights to Johnson to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second overall pick in the draft. It would have reunited Johnson with longtime friend Sidney Crosby, and likely netted Carolina the rights to Jordan Staal, younger brother of Hurricanes center Eric Staal.

Although nothing happened on draft day, the Hurricanes have not ruled out trading Johnson.

"A trade is always an option," Rutherford said. "I wouldn't move Jack for nothing, but if something came up where we would receive something comparable, I wouldn't be afraid to pull the trigger."

Johnson's decision to stay in Ann Arbor could not have come at a worse time for the defending Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes. They recently lost defenseman Frantisek Kaberle to a shoulder injury that will force him to miss most of the season. A blue-chip prospect like Johnson would probably net Carolina a quality defenseman if a trade were to happen.

Because of his decision to stay at Michigan, Johnson has suffered some backlash from the hockey world. Many have criticized him for not joining the Hurricanes for the Stanley Cup playoffs. But none of this seems to have had an effect on the defenseman, who is looking to help the Wolverines rebound from one of their worst seasons in recent memory.

"I'm more than happy to talk to (the Hurricanes) at the end of the year and explore my options," Johnson said. "But it's just not the right thing right now."


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