Erik Johnson Contract Top Priority for Avalanche


“Erik Johnson was our best player (at the beginning of the season)” ~Patrick Roy

The Erik Johnson contract. Now that the dust has settled on the Ryan O’Reilly trade saga, it’s all about the Erik Johnson contract extension for the Colorado Avalanche.

It needs to be anyway. Johnson is about to enter the final year of his contract. After that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent — and he’ll be a hot commodity on the free agency market. So Erik Johnson’s contract extension needs to be top of the “to do” list for the Avalanche.

Erik Johnson’s Importance to the Team

I cannot overstate Erik Johnson’s importance to the team. He is the cornerstone of the Colorado Avalanche defense. He sees the big minutes against the big lines. Last season he averaged a team-leading 24+ minutes a game. Head coach Patrick Roy used him on both the power play and the penalty kill.

Johnson’s statistics were impressive considering they came in that troublesome first half of the season. Johnson scored 12 goals, leading the defensemen for the first half of the season in that category. By the end, offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie had only matched, not surpassed Johnson, despite playing 33 more games.

Johnson’s plus-minus ratio was also +2, again impressive considering how poorly the rest of the team was doing at the time.(More than half the team finished in the minus category, and only two other regulars finished in the plus category.)

Erik Johnson hits and blocks shots, too, averaging about four of each per 60 minutes on the ice. He’s a fast skater with excellent mobility and puck-moving skills. According to, Johnson improves the team in both offense and defense when he’s on the ice.

In short, even with the recent signings of the young Nikita Zadorov and the veteran Francois Beauchemin, Johnson is still the Colorado Avalanche’s #1 defenseman.

Joe Sakic About the Erik Johnson Contract

I’m going to repeat something I’ve said before — don’t play poker with Joe Sakic. He’s very good at hiding his intentions. Concerning the Erik Johnson contract extension specifically, Sakic said in a media conference call (as reported on the Avalanche website):

"“Erik Johnson is going to be an unrestricted free agent after next season, so we are hopefully going to get him done.”"

That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of urgency.

However, both Sakic and Roy — who, as VP of hockey operations has final say on player personnel — have made no bones about Johnson’s central role on the team. In fact, coach Roy stated at the conclusion of the season that the only real priority in free agency for the Avalanche was finding a defensive partner for Johnson.

Sakic reiterated that in the same conference call. He said over and over again that signing Beauchemin was to partner Johnson. The team wanted a left-shooting defenseman (Johnson shoots right) who could play the big minutes as his partner. Sakic said of Beauchemin:

"“We wanted someone who we knew could play top minutes against top lines. He brings toughness, leadership. I think he led the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs in ice time last year, and they are a very good hockey team. So we wanted somebody that we knew we could trust in that role of playing with EJ.”"

That does not sound like a GM that’s willing to let Johnson go at the conclusion of next season.

Erik Johnson Contract Extension Worth

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I posited in a previous post that I thought and Erik Johnson contract extension would look like $5 million per year. That’s not what I think Johnson is worth — I think he’d fetch a lot more on the open market. However, at the time that’s what I thought the Avs might offer him.

Dougie Hamilton may have changed that figure. At just 22 years old with just three years of NHL experience, Hamilton signed a six-year contract that will pay him an average of $5.75 million a year.

Erik Johnson is a superior player. He was the Avalanche’s only representative to the All Star Weekend last season (though he couldn’t attend due to his knee surgery). Johnson is an Olympic medalist and a proven force in the physical Central Division. He regularly puts up 20+ and 30+ point seasons without hurting his team on the defensive side.

That said, the Avalanche have also been clear about their “structure” — ie., no one makes more than center Matt Duchene on the team. Duchene carries an annual cap hit of $6 million. The captain, Gabriel Landeskog, doesn’t make more. Roy’s prized goalie, Semyon Varlamov, doesn’t make more.

Erik Johnson won’t make more. However, the Avalanche may appease that by offering him a six, seven or even eight year contract for $6 million a year. That is low-balling his worth. However, Johnson has made a home for himself on this team. He’s the leader of the defensive corps and one of the leaders Roy praises in the locker room.

Hopefully the Avalanche sign him to such a deal. Because if Erik Johnson hits the free agency market next summer… well, the Avalanche blue line is as good as toast.

More About Erik Johnson:

TBT: Erik Johnson’s First Goal as an Avalanche

Evaluating Avalanche’s Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson Makes Fan’s Day

Johnson Necessary Aspect of Avs Defense

Erik Johnson Talks Horses

Next: Erik Johnson's Curse

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