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Johnson's future now up in the air

BY H. JOSE BOSCH

Published March 28, 2006

Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson may not be as sure about staying in Ann Arbor as he claimed to be all season long.

It's no secret that the Carolina Hurricanes - who drafted the freshman third overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft - could use Johnson's defensive presence during its late season push toward the Stanley Cup playoffs. Currently the Hurricanes hold the NHL's third-best record, behind Detroit and Ottawa. They've been wanting to sign the Ann Arbor native since January.

During the weekend of Jan. 6 and 7, before the Wolverines were took on Alaska-Fairbanks, Johnson and Carolina officials met for lunch, said a source close to Johnson, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the situation's delicacy. The source said the team offered Johnson a contract, similar to the longtime contract Sidney Crosby - a friend of Johnson's - received from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The source also said the team was going to insert Johnson into the lineup as soon as possible. But the source said Johnson turned down the offer. The source also said that Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson was alerted of the situation and gave Johnson the go-ahead to talk to Carolina.

Then, two weeks ago, following Michigan's second-round CCHA playoff sweep of Ferris State, Johnson was unusually straightforward with reporters about his intentions for the future.

"The only way you're going to get me out of here is by gunpoint," Johnson said.

Now, Johnson seems uncertain.

"At this point, I'm kind of up in the air, I guess," Johnson said in an article published yesterday in the Raleigh News and Observer. "I still feel hesitant on making the jump. I want to make sure. I'm going to talk to a few people who I really confide in, and after talking to them try to make a pretty good decision. Right now, I'm really torn."

Johnson can still sign with the Hurricanes and join the team for its playoff run. According to the article, the first year of his contract would roll over to next season if he played in 10 or fewer games.

The loss of Johnson would be a big one for the hockey team. Johnson was fifth on the team in points (32) and was the top point scorer amongst the freshman. Johnson also broke the all-time record for most penalty minutes in a season with 149 minutes.

Johnson and his family could not be reached for comment.