Erik Johnson Contract: Colorado Avalanche Must Extend


“Erik Johnson has been our best player all year.” ~Patrick Roy, January 2015

Erik Johnson is the cornerstone of the Colorado Avalanche defense. Fans, pundits and sports writers can quibble about whether Johnson is elite or deserves to be a #1 defenseman, but there’s no questioning he’s the Colorado Avalanche’s #1 defenseman.

The 2015-16 season is the final year of the Erik Johnson contract extension signed in July 2013. While the contract carries an annual cap hit of just $3.75 million, Johnson is slated to make $4.25 million next season.

At the conclusion of next season, Erik Johnson becomes an unrestricted free agent. The Colorado Avalanche need to extend his contract before that happens.

Erik Johnson Statistics

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 232

Shoots: Right

Age: 27

Johnson has had two 39-point seasons, first in 2009-10 with the St. Louis Blues and again in 2013-14 with the Colorado Avalanche. In the 2014-15 season Johnson was on pace to bust those numbers open. In 47 games he scored 12 goals and earned a total 23 points, going +2 when almost no one else on the team was in the plus category. Even though Johnson didn’t play the second half of the season, he still finished tied with Tyson Barrie for most goals scored by a defenseman.

Johnson put his big body to use when on the ice. According to Sporting Charts, he recorded 5.6 blocked shots per 60 minutes and 4.9 hits per 60. Johnson played an average 24.4 minutes per game, though that number is low-balled due to his being ejected from one game and having to leave another injured. He tended to average between 26 to 28 minutes per game during the season.

Erik Johnson’s Playing Style

Erik Johnson is a two-way defenseman. He has a smooth, powerful skating style that earned him the nickname “Condor.” His stride is so long that, in a coast to coast race, he can beat speedy center Matt Duchene. His size and skating ability make him very difficult to move off the puck — or off his skates. In fact, he has enough power to move like a juggernaut through opponents.

Johnson is not a pure offensive defenseman. He certainly pinches in, but some of his best play comes from the blueline. He has a bomb of a shot from the point. He’s also a playmaker with a pool player’s knack for bouncing the puck just right for the rebound.

Erik Johnson’s defense is what puts him head and shoulders above teammate Tyson Barrie. (Well, that and his six-inch height advantage.) Johnson doesn’t just relegate his defensive play to hitting. Because of his strong skating and hockey IQ, he can stick to even the speediest forward like glue. Oh, and he has one wicked mean streak — he’s remorseless about getting under opponents’ skin.

Erik Johnson’s Role

As stated before, Erik Johnson is the cornerstone of the Colorado Avalanche defense. He plays the most minutes of any player. Head coach Patrick Roy uses him on both the power play and the penalty kill. Johnson sees action against opponents’ top lines.

According to Johnson, at the conclusion of last season the coaching staff charged him with taking a larger role in the team. He spent the off-season training with renowned trainer Andy O’Brien. Johnson lost an undisclosed amount of weight as O’Brien had him working on his stamina over his strength.

That’s when Erik Johnson came in ready to take on his increased role in the Avalanche defense. Last season coach Roy called Johnson “the Avalanche’s best defenseman.” This year Roy amended that to “the Avalanche’s best player.”

Johnson took on his increased responsibilities and turned them into what was shaping up to be a career season before knee surgery cut it short. Indeed, early on in the season his name was linked to Norris Trophy considerations. Johnson was also the only Avalanche player named to the All Star team.

Future Erik Johnson Contract Worth

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson records the big minutes against the big lines. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

As a 27-year-old defenseman, Erik Johnson is just striding into the apex of his career.

Johnson’s cap hit is $3.75 million, but he’s likely to expect the $4.25 million he actually makes next season to be the starting point for his salary increase. His strength, role, playing style and pure production indicate any Erik Johnson salary extension will be in the neighborhood of $5 million annually.

Drawing comparisons, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (30 years old), who records similar ice time to Johnson, has had only one 39-point season in 10 years. Next year he’s slated to make $5 million.

Andrei Markov (36 years old), who is not the cornerstone of the Montreal Canadien’s defense carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. Matt Niskanen (28 years old) and Brooks Orpik (34 years old) tested the free agency water last season. They were rewarded by the Washington Capitals with annual contracts worth $5.75 million and $5.5 million respectively.

Defensemen like Alexander Edler (Vancouver Canucks, 29), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh Penguins, 34), Andrew MacDonald (Philadelphia Flyers, 28) hover around the $5 million mark. However, except for one All Star appearance by Edler, these players are not All Star defensemen whose name is mentioned with the Norris Trophy.

Ultimately, Erik Johnson is a big, strong, speedy defenseman with adept hockey IQ, a mean streak and a nose for scoring. He’s also a right-hand shot, a leader, an All Star. Teams have salivated over a lot less.

The Colorado Avalanche front offices know they have no one anywhere near ready to take Johnson’s place. They know he’s been a loyal and valuable leader for the team. They must reward him accordingly, even if that means other players have to accept a little less.

After all, allowing Erik Johnson to get to unrestricted free agency doesn’t bear thinking about.
More About Erik Johnson

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Avs Players Need to Step Up in Johnson’s Absence

Johnson Necessary Aspect of Avs Defense

TBT: Erik Johnson’s First Goal as an Avalanche

Evaluating Avalanche’s Erik Johnson

Next: Erik Johnson's Curse

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