Erik Johnson Contract Extension: How Talks Work


The Colorado Avalanche signed defenseman Erik Johnson to a seven-year contract extension that keeps him with the team through the 2022-23 season.

Professional sports are vastly different from “normal life” — or at least my normal life — so I’m always curious about how some things go behind the scenes. For example, we all got a pretty clear understanding of how salary arbitration works with the whole Ryan O’Reilly situation.

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I’ve always sort of pictured GMs such as Joe Sakic on the phone or in meetings with player agents hammering out the details, but, of course, it doesn’t really work that way. There are specialists who hammer out the deals according to certain parameters.

These talks also go on for some length of time. During an interview with the Denver Post’s Terry Frei, Erik Johnson remarked that the first phone call went into his agent back in May. He commented, “It’s amazing how fast two months fly by.”

Likely that initial call was made to figure out what each side wanted in terms of length and monetary compensation. There are other details, of course, but as Johnson pointed out:

"“I don’t want to say it’s not about the money, because that’s what you negotiate over, but I wanted to fit in and make sure we could get other guys signed, too.”"

The other sticking point, at least for Johnson, was term — he wanted a long contract so he could stay with the Colorado Avalanche. In fact, he specifically mentioned wanting to stay through not only his own prime years, which he’s in now, but being a part of center Nathan MacKinnon’s and left wing Gabriel Landeskog’s prime years. He stated outright he wanted to be in Colorado “for the long haul.”

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic reiterated that desire:

"“He really wanted to be here, we really wanted him here. We were able to find a solution. … He’s an Avalanche and wants to be here for the rest of this career.”"

Earlier on, Erik Johnson brought up a good point concerning the salary “structure” of the Colorado Avalanche.  Loosely interpreted, the structure dictates no one can make more than center Matt Duchene’s $6 million annual.

However, what it really relates to is the fact that the Colorado Avalanche have been able to trade for and, especially, draft some elite young talent. Right now players such as Tyson Barrie and MacKinnon are in early contracts. However, eventually they’re going to expect — and deserve — significant pay bumps. Landeskog and Duchene are just entering their most lucrative contracts.

“You have to appreciate that we’re so lucky to come to the rink every day and do this for a living.” ~Erik Johnson

Essentially, Johnson knew demanding a higher premium would force the team to reconsider keeping him. He was looking to the future of the Colorado Avalanche in addition to his own. This is a reality that centers Paul Stastny and, especially, Ryan O’Reilly never acknowledged.

Indeed, Johnson remarked on as much when he commented that O’Reilly had put himself into a position of saying he wanted to stay with the Avalanche when his contractual demands made that impossible.

In any case, Johnson’s contract negotiations were not so high profile — or contentious — as O’Reilly’s. While his agent and Avalanche admin were likely chatting throughout the summer, nothing had happened by the time training camp opened.

Naturally, reporters asked about the contract. Johnson politely gave all the information he intended — he was committed to staying with the team, but the contract had to “work for both sides.” He then reasonably stated he wouldn’t let contract talks become a distraction — he was staying mum until they went through.

Johnson rationalized to Frei:

"“The biggest thing was that I wanted to think about just playing for this team. As I told Terry [Frei], I didn’t want to come into the locker room and talk about my contract. I wanted to talk about the team and the team only.”"

Well, that wasn’t too hard. By his own admission the talks had reached “the point of no return” by then. The sticking point was the length, but the Avalanche front offices displayed faith in Erik Johnson by locking him up through the next eight seasons.

Johnson jokes about what that’s going to look like. He’s 27 years old now, and Denver Post writer Mike Chambers has already started calling him “veteran.” By the conclusion of his contract extension he’ll be 36 — that’s true veteran status in an NHL that sees players retire between the ages of 36 and 40. (Jaromir Jagr notwithstanding.)

Johnson acknowledged to Frei:

"“It makes me cringe. This is my ninth year coming up here, and to think about taking me to that age … I remember breaking in as a 19-year-old and playing with Keith Tkachuk, who was that age, and I thought he was so old. I’m sure that when I’m that age, when I finish this contract here after we’ve won a few Stanley Cups, there’s going to be some young 18-year-old looking at me, saying, ‘Look at that old guy’.”"

Maybe, but it’s going to be an “old guy” who’s still kicking. Johnson promises that signing the contract extension doesn’t mean “things are over.” Rather, he vows to “bring it every day.” He adds:

"“You play for the ultimate goal. This is just a chapter that’s written in the entire book, and you want to fill those chapters with lots of winning days.”"

(That metaphor is worthy of a Dutchy-ism!)

Johnson sees those winning days happening with the Colorado Avalanche:

"“You play to win,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t have signed here long-term if I didn’t think we were going to win.”"

So, to summarize, that’s how an NHL contract negotiation can run smoothly. Both the player and the team execs look at the situation rationally. The two sides discuss terms amicably. The player maybe gives up a little money to get what he wants. The team agrees to carry him a little longer to gain favorable terms.

Distractions over.

Players have to make their own choices, of course. Ryan O’Reilly wanted to pursue the money, and that’s his purview, naturally. Paul Stastny was similar. Johnson made it clear he wanted to pursue loyalty to the Colorado Avalanche. I can’t blame Ryan O’Reilly or Paul Stastny for the decisions they made. But I can certainly appreciate Erik Johnson’s more.

Next: EJ's Contract Extension:What and Why

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