Warning: Story contains coarse language
Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford says he wasn't taking an intentional shot at the Columbus Blue Jackets when he made an assessment about Jack Johnson's usage that didn't sit well with John Tortorella.
“I have nothing but respect for the Columbus Blue Jackets,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Jason Mackey. “They’ve got a good city, a good franchise, a great owner, and (president of hockey operations) John Davidson to run the franchise. I feel bad that it either (came) out the way it did or it upset people; that certainly wasn’t my intent. They have a very good franchise there, and it’s very well run.”
After the Penguins made the signing of Johnson to a five-year, $16.25-million deal official on the first day of free agency, Rutherford told reporters the following about the veteran defenseman, according to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline:
"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."
When asked Thursday to clarify what he meant by the latter remark, Rutherford declined to elaborate.
“I don’t think that’s going to do anybody any good at this point,” he told Mackey. “We feel comfortable with the homework that we did on this player.”
Rutherford's initial comments, along with Johnson telling reporters on July 1 that, “I've been really wanting to be a part of a winning culture and a place where the expectations to win are as high as they can be," clearly irked Tortorella at the time.
The always forthright Blue Jackets head coach issued an expletive-laden response in which he said that for Rutherford "to question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a fucking magician," later adding that the Penguins GM should "shut the fuck up," and that Johnson's statement was "utter bullshit."
Johnson was scratched in all six of the Blue Jackets' playoff games this spring and he collected only 11 points in 77 regular-season contests in 2017-18.