Erik Johnson Contract: When Should we Worry?


Colorado Avalanche fans have become a little skittish in recent years when it comes to player contract negotiations. First center Paul Stastny kept promising he’d give Colorado the hometown discount before jumping for the money in St. Louis. Then center Ryan O’Reilly took the team to not one, not two but three contract disputes. Actually, that roller coaster started before the Stastny situation, but you get the point.

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The business side of hockey gets in the way of our enjoyment sometimes.

Money’s a serious matter, no matter whether you’re trying to make ends meet at minimum wage or negotiating a multi-million dollar sports contract. As fans, we don’t get much information into what’s going on — just a lot of whispering and rumors.

Right now, those whispers and rumors have surrounded the latest contract negotiation — defenseman Erik Johnson’s extension. Without one, Johnson becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.

I’ve gone into detail the importance of extending Erik Johnson’s contract, what his contract might be worth and why it should be done in a timely manner. However, as we head into the preseason games, the extension hasn’t been solidified yet.

Contract Negotiations

During a press conference around the NHL Draft, GM Joe Sakic stated that the Colorado Avalanche hoped to “get EJ done,” or extend his contract. Predictably, that was it for the duration of the summer.

As soon as Media Day came around last week, though, the questions started coming. Head coach Patrick Roy, who, as VP of hockey operations has final say in player personnel, stated that the negotiations were proceeding well.

Erik Johnson didn’t go into greater detail when his turn came at Media Day, naturally. However, he did start to make his stance known when he commented on the Ryan O’Reilly trade:

"“I think Ryan put himself in a situation where he said he wanted to be here, but he didn’t want to be here with his contract demands.”"

Indeed, he praised management in its handling of “the hand they were dealt.” That, and the comment that “We’re happy with the players we got” made me think he was putting himself pretty firmly in the Colorado Avalanche camp.

More conclusive proof of that alignment came from an article by Mike Chambers of the Denver Post. Johnson told Chambers that he’s maintained a “very, very strong desire to stay in Colorado.” He added:

"“I really love playing in Denver and I love my teammates. I love the coaching staff and I love playing for Patrick (Roy), and having Joe (Sakic) in charge is awesome.”"

That sounds promising until you get to his caveat:

"“It’s my desire to stay here, but it has to work for both sides, and I’m all for working with the team and trying to fit into the structure.”"

Stating that a contract “has to work for both sides” and his mention of “structure” probably references both the previous big contract negotiations. When talking about O’Reilly specifically, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic referred to a team “structure” more than once.

Essentially, that “structure” means no player can make more than center Matt Duchene’s $6 million annual.

Johnson was careful to tell Chambers that he wasn’t out to get something “over my value on the market.”

Currenly Johnson carries a cap hit of $3.75 million, though he’s set to make $4.25 million this season. There’s no word on which figure he wants to be the starting point for an increase, but you’ve got to think the Colorado Avalanche are going to offer significantly more than even $4.25 million to their cornerstone defenseman.

Will they even reach that $6 million threshold? I hope so because I think that would be enough for Erik Johnson. I don’t know that obviously, though. Erik Johnson is in the prime of his career. He likely needs this next contract to be his most lucrative.

After stating he didn’t want anything over market value, he added:

"“I’m going to work with them and I hope they work with me and we can get something done.”"

When Should we Worry?

Personally, I’ve had a low-level of anxiety about this contract extension since last summer. That worry has kicked up a notch, as evidenced by my posts on the matter, over the course of this summer.

It’s not just a matter of Erik Johnson being my favorite player. Johnson is our best defenseman and the only man I truly trust against other teams’ top lines.

However, as a group, when should Avs Nation worry?

I think the time is not now, but it’s approaching. Johnson has said he won’t discuss the matter further because he doesn’t want it to become a “distraction.” That’s more than fair — we all saw what happened last season when players perform with distractions looming over their heads.

Let’s face it, GM Joe Sakic wasn’t called “Quoteless Joe” during his player days because he had nothing to say. The man knows how to play his cards close to his chest. Coach Roy will talk about it, but he’ll probably give it an optimistic spin. So, essentially, Avalanche fans are in the dark until an announcement comes.

I’d say we should start worrying if there’s no announcement by the first regular season game. Management is already negotiating with Erik Johnson’s agent, obviously. The team isn’t going to want any distractions as it attempts the strong start that proved so elusive last season. Therefore, if there’s no extension by then, that probably means there was a snag.

Indeed, Johnson stated that he want his upcoming focus to be on “hockey and hockey only.” He doesn’t want the distraction of the negotiations and the constant questions about the status becoming detrimental to his game. For that reason he says he’d like to “get it done as soon as possible.”

To that end, Darren Dreger of The Sports Network reports that talks between Johnson’s agent and the Colorado Avalanche are supposed to continue today.

Let’s all stay positive that the Erik Johnson contract extension is going to be one that makes both the player and the execs happy — because that’s what’ll ultimately be best for the Colorado Avalanche and Avs Nation.

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