Erik Johnson Contract: EJ is Extended!


The Colorado Avalanche and defenseman Erik Johnson have agreed to an extension of the player’s contract. Johnson is on the final year of a four-year extension worth $15 million with an annual cap hit of $3.75 million. Johnson was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.

Per Denver Post writer Terry Frei and other sources, the terms of the Erik Johnson contract extension are seven years at $6 million per year with a limited no trade clause. The contract will run through the 2022-23 season.

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic said of the move:

"“Erik is a big part of the core of this team. We felt it was important for our franchise to secure his rights for the long term as he enters the prime years of his career.”"

Erik Johnson’s Hockey Pedigree

Defenseman Erik Johnson has an impressive hockey pedigree. He was always top in his class when it came to hockey. He played a little offense at the youngest levels — and even flirted with becoming a goalie until his parents put the kabosh on that — but he’s been a defenseman since his Squirt days.

Johnson grew quickly. As a seventh grader, he was already in the 5-foot-9 category. If you’ve not been around a lot of middle school boys, I can tell you that’s gigantic. By his freshman year of high school he says he’d shot up to around 6-foot-3. Again, that’s big for that age level.

That size coupled with his elite talent is probably what helped him get the notice of the U.S. National Development Team Program. He played his first two high school years for the Academy of Holy Angels in his native Bloomington, Minnesota, (They even retired his number this summer) before transferring to Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the age of 16. That’s when he began his training with the prestigious NTDP.

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Johnson continued to shine. Indeed, he’s represented his country at numerous international competitions:

  • World Under-17 Hockey Challenge
  • IIHF World Juniors Under-18 (2 gold medals)
  • IIHF World Juniors Under-20 (bronze medal, 1 other appearance)
  • IIHF Worlds (bronze medal, 1 other appearance)
  • 2010 Olympic Games (silver medal)

Erik Johnson was the #1 overall selection at the 2006 NHL Draft.

Erik Johnson’s Role on the Team

Johnson has unfortunately been on a roller coaster for a lot of his career. Honestly, he’s seen a lot of “two steps forward, one step back.” (Read more here.)

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That said, he’s really come into his own under head coach Patrick Roy‘s tutelage. Indeed, one of the first things coach Roy reportedly said to Johnson was that he should forget the “first-overall” thing because of the distraction that it was. Coach Roy counseled Johnson to “Just be EJ.”

Being EJ has been good for the team and for the player himself. During the 2013-14 season, Johnson matched his career highs, earning 39 points (9 goals, 30 assists) in 80 games. He was on pace to play in all 82 games until an erroneous suspension by Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety.

Last season, Johnson was on pace to blow his previous numbers out of the water. He earned 12 goals and 11 assists in just 47 games. He was the only Colorado Avalanche player named to the All Star team, and there was Norris Trophy talk. Unfortunately, he had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery, and that ended his season.

Johnson has seen his leadership role expand significantly on the team. He was an alternate captain for awhile before the team had a proper captain. Though he doesn’t wear that letter anymore, there’s no question he shows leadership.

I’ve seen it when I’ve attended practices and training camp. He’s a definite liaison between coach Roy and the players. He’s talking to everyone, especially within his own defensive corps. Though he’s not the most veteran of blue liners, he’s definitely their leader.

Here’s Johnson conferring with alternate captain Cody McLeod:

Erik Johnson is also the cornerstone of the Colorado Avalanche defense. He’s a big (6-foot-4, 230-pound) two way defenseman. He has solid offensive skills — including some creative plays such as banking the puck off the back boards to create a scoring chance — and elite defensive skills.

Johnson is capable of pinching into the play and then using his premier speed to get back into position. He is one of the strongest skaters on the ice, and his transition play makes it look as if he has a pivot in his spine and ball bearings in his hips.

Johnson participating in a practice drill:

Erik Johnson is also one, well, meanie (to keep this PG) on the ice. He can be a jerk of epic proportions — ask Erik Haula from last year’s season opener. He’s not afraid to hit. And even when he takes a hit, more often than not it’s the opponent who falls.

In short, Johnson is the Colorado Avalanche’s cornerstone because that blend of speed, skill and physicality is exactly what the team has stated is the ideal. Indeed, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic and coach Roy made no bones about the fact that they were acquiring a defenseman to partner Johnson in the top pairing. He and his partner (so far Francois Beauchemin from the Anaheim Ducks) are expected to see the big minutes against the top lines.

Erik Johnson’s Popularity with Fans

Erik Johnson’s reputation with the fans has been just as much a roller coaster as his career. It’s the first-overall thing, you see. I posit that some people have never forgiven EJ for being the St. Louis Blues #1 draft pick and not immediately leading them to the Stanley Cup.

A little video I made in honor of that (don’t judge — I’m a writer, not a videographer!):

The criticism has been ever present as Johnson didn’t go on to win a clutch of Norris Trophies. Some fans started to pick apart his game — largely because they didn’t understand that a two-way game isn’t going to look the same as a purely offensive defenseman’s game. Turns out there is something between Sandis Ozolinsh and Adam Foote — Erik Johnson.

However, as EJ continued to act with grace and poise under the pressure, his game improved. Fans started to see the beauty in his game. Coupled with a truly snarky sense of humor (He recently chirped captain Gabriel Landeskog on Twitter, stating the numbers on the Avs new Stadium Series jersey are as big as Gabe’s head), fans got the hang of the glory of EJ.

Another fan’s EJ video:

And then EJ was christened Condor. During a 2015 game against the Ottawa Senators, color analyst Peter McNab remarked that Johnson “skates like a Condor.” Altitude TV reporter Kyle Keefe reported that to Johnson, who sheepishly admitted, “I’m not sure I know what that is.”

Well, Avs Nation googled condor and quickly discovered it’s a large bird of prey. The swooping, menacing and yet graceful flight of the condor describes Johnson’s skating perfectly.

Watch Johnson’s skating during a coast-to-coast goal:

Besides that, Johnson has an excellent reputation with both the fans and the media. I reported how he made a fan’s day by ensuring she got the chance to meet him even though he couldn’t play. He’s been diligent about signing autographs for fans — I even saw him take a broken stick from a kid at training camp to sign and return later. No one else at the time was granting autographs.

Johnson also has answered even the toughest of interview questions — getting suspended, getting traded, getting omitted from the Olympics team, getting eliminated from the playoffs — with eloquence and poise.

Johnson just minutes after the heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Minnesota Wild:

The Future for the Colorado Avalanche and Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson is just striding into his prime. He once lamented to Mike Chambers that he wished it hadn’t taken 300+ NHL games for him to find his best hockey. But it did, and that’s ok. Last season he played the best hockey of his career.

Judging by training camp and the Burgundy and White Game, that trajectory is going to continue.

Johnson is still young, just 27 years old. He is at a point in his career in which it’s not just his premier play that helps the team. No question the Colorado Avalanche are going to expect him to hit, defend and score pretty regularly.

However, Johnson’s value to the team is increased in how much hockey — hard hockey and world-stage hockey — he’s played. He has the experience and the leadership to guide the defensive prospects as they make the team.

I’m not privy to locker room meetings of course, but judging by his candor with the media, I’m guessing he’s vocal in the dressing room, too.

Erik Johnson is an elite defenseman. He’s not a forward in disguise like whom some people call “elite defensemen” — he’s a true blue liner with the offensive skills to help his team and the physicality to punish opponents. He’s a leader and a role model in the community.

In short, the future for the Colorado Avalanche and Erik Johnson is very bright.

Next: That's Our Condor!

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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