Jack Johnson helped change the course of the Blue Jackets.
It's been well-documented, so we'll spare you the granularity. Johnson arrived when no one wanted to play here, went through a significant roster turnover/rebuild and stuck it out with not a single complaint (well, until this year).
Johnson has been a huge part of the Blue Jackets – but his time here is coming to an end.
He will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and free to sign with anyone. So, who might be in the field of contenders? This is a semi-educated guess, based on previous interest, reports, and team construction.
Don't hold us to it, OK?
DETROIT RED WINGS
This one makes a lot of sense. The Red Wings are going through a build, to be sure, but their defense needs a ton of work. Johnson grew up in Ann Arbor and no doubt would welcome the opportunity to play in Detroit, where he'd get significant minutes and play a big role in a young locker room. The Red Wings have Mike Green's $6 million salary coming off the books and may be bidding adieu to Niklas Kronwall once his contract expires after next season, so a 30-year-old Johnson stepping into that situation seems like a potential fit.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Tread lightly here, folks, because a recent regime change may alter the Leafs' plans. But there was plenty of speculation and rumors leading up to the trade deadline – particularly in the wake of Johnson's trade request going public – that Toronto had interest in Johnson. Now, former GM Lou Lamoriello likely spearheaded that charge and now with Kyle Dubas in the GM's chair (a guy who pays attention to things like Johnson largely getting caved in at even strength over the last several seasons)...this ship may have sailed, but many teams believe Johnson can still play a top-four role in the NHL.
Perhaps no blueline in the NHL needs more work than the Sabres'. GM Jason Botterill has his hands full trying to remake this team, which looked closer a couple of years ago than they do now. Josh Gorges (he's still around!) is a free agent this summer as is former Blue Jacket Justin Falk, leaving a couple of openings on Buffalo's back end. The Sabres need to add better players yesterday, and Johnson would seem to be a fit for what they're looking for – provided the cost is right.
With recent news (via TSN's Bob McKenzie) that virtually "everyone" on the Hurricanes' roster is available for trade – save for Finnish star Sebastian Aho – this situation bears monitoring. New owner Tom Dundon is hands-on and wants to win, and there's potential for some major shuffling in Raleigh as they look for the right pieces. Justin Faulk is rumored to be on the way out, which would leave Carolina with one of the youngest blue lines in hockey. Would Johnson, at age 30, be right for that situation? You never know, especially in the Dundon Era, but it would also be a surprise if Johnson elected to sign with a team he spurned as a top draft pick back in 2005.
Honorable Mentions: Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning.