Johnson still wonders about Hawks exit

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
12:13
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Ryan JohnsonBill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesRyan Johnson won 63 percent of his faceoffs last year, but the Hawks decided to part ways.
It's been a summer-long question for the Chicago Blackhawks: Do they have enough at center?

It's well documented they were not in the market for a big name, choosing to hold onto their money for a possible in-season trade. But with only two proven centers on the roster, Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland, there was still potential space for some help on one of the bottom two lines. Former Hawk, Ryan Johnson, earned that role a season ago, but he wasn't retained despite a dependable showing.

While he was working out with former teammates in Chicago on Wednesday, Johnson was asked if he wonders why he wasn't brought back to the Blackhawks.

"Do you wonder, yeah," he said. "Where are you going to get answers? There are no answers for you. So I trained like I always do and weigh your options and get ready to go to a fresh place."

Johnson recently agreed to a tryout with the Detroit Red Wings and isn't sure why he didn't get a chance to return to Chicago. His best ability is winning faceoffs. He won a team high 63 percent last year, while the Hawks, as a team, ranked 12th in that category winning 50.8 percent overall. Still, it wasn't enough for a new deal.

"In this game if you try to read into things or understand things you'll spend a lot of useless time," Johnson said. "I have no idea what went into the decision, but in this business you have to move on and prepare yourself and be excited for the next opportunity."

Marcus Kruger is unproven and Jamal Mayers isn't a true center, so it's understandable that Johnson would wonder why he didn't get a call. But it's not something he's lost sleep over.

"I've learned in this game you don't expect anything," he said. "You take care of what you can. You work your butt off on and off the ice to be the person you know you are, and I feel if you do that good things will happen to you."

The Hawks strategy is apparent. Start the season with what they have and then adjust accordingly. If they are able to trade for a second-line center, everyone will move down a spot and all could work out. However, depth is needed for injuries as much as anything else. Prospect Brandon Pirri, or someone else, might be ready, but are the Hawks willing to play two rookies at center if, say, Dave Bolland has yet another injury? Thin is thin until the need is addressed. The trade deadline is a long way away.

It's obvious the Hawks chose the speed and size of Mayers over Johnson or even John Madden, who remains unsigned. Time will tell if it was the right decision.

As for Johnson, he earned his spot with the Hawks after a short tryout in the minors last season. He'll go to Red Wings camp in a similar situation.

"It came down to the last week or so," he said. "The discussions I had with Detroit were great. It's a great opportunity and I'm excited to be there and they're excited to have me there."

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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Patrick Sharp
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