Colorado Avalanche: Ramifications of Erik Johnson Injury *UPDATE

Dec 31, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) after scoring a goal during the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Pepsi Center. The Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) after scoring a goal during the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Pepsi Center. The Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson is out five to 12 days with an undisclosed lower body injury. This injury has definite ramifications for the team.

Sometime in the first half of the second period of the January 4 game against the LA Kings, Erik Johnson suffered a lower body injury. I didn’t see the play, and judging by the announcers at the time and the news since then, no one else did either. I just noticed that it was Nick Holden on the ice at the 11:01 mark when Tyler Toffoli scored on the power play, not the usual penalty killer Erik Johnson.

In any case, head coach Patrick Roy announced during a post-practice presser that Johnson would be gone “short term” with his injury, elaborating to “five to 10, 12 days.” That means Johnson will miss two to six games.

Yesterday the Colorado Avalanche also picked up defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk on waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coach Roy said in the same presser this was simply to “add depth” to the defensive corps.

As the rest of Avs Nation congratulates Matt Duchene on his nomination to the All Star team — congratulations, Dutchy! — let’s look a little more closely at how the loss of Johnson even “short term” affects the team.

Andrew Bodnarchuk’s Role

Bodnarchuk is small — 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. That alone makes his acquisition weird because the Colorado Avalanche has been prizing size recently.

However, Bodnarchuk is a strong skater with good ice vision. He’s gritty even if his size holds his physical play back. However, his main hockey qualities are related to his stick work. He moves the puck well, and he’s got a hard shot from the point.

So, first blush, if Andrew Bodnarchuk even makes the lineup, it definitely won’t be in Johnson’s place. No way is Bodnarchuk a top-two defenseman, and he’s a lefty. Johnson is a righty.

That means coach Roy might be doing some serious shuffling of defensive pairings. Like I observed above, Holden took Johnson’s spot against the Kings, but Holden is another lefty. Plus, he’s been Tyson Barrie‘s defensive partner for a large part of the season.

Zach Redmond is a righty, and he skated on the top pairing last season when Johnson was out after knee surgery. That lineup feels a little shaky this season — Redmond just hasn’t been playing as well as he did last year.

No matter how it shakes out, the blueline is going to have to step up in Johnson’s absence. Acquiring Bodnarchuk shows the Colorado Avalanche is still committed to making the playoffs this year — they’re four points out of a wild card spot at the time of writing.

Defensive Prospects

One question that came about because of the Erik Johnson injury and acquisition of Andrew Bodnarchuk was why the Colorado Avalanche didn’t just call up a defensive prospect. The AHL-affiliate San Antonio Rampage has a few options:

First of all, Geertsen and Bigras are both in their first full professional season. The Avalanche organization — and coach Roy reiterated it in the presser — has been committed to letting the defensive prospects develop properly at the AHL level with lots of playing time.

That rationale gets a little thin when applied to Duncan Siemens, who’s 22 and has spent two full seasons at the AHL level before this one.

You could point out that he was injured for part of last season. You could also point out that he was a draft pick from the old guard, and he might simply not have found favor with Coach Roy. I, for one, wasn’t overly impressed with his training camp this season. (He was better last season.) He’s also a lefty.

The big question comes with Nikita Zadorov. He’s big, he’s gritty as hell, and he’s a righty. In 25 games with the Rampage he has 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists). Zadorov’s been playing very well with San Antonio.

However, Zadorov looked pretty shaky in a lot of his games with the Colorado Avalanche earlier this season. Coach Roy said Zadorov’s confidence needed bolstering. Most likely Avs management is trying to do the right thing by Zadorov in letting him have success at the AHL level before making it big with Colorado. GM Joe Sakic has pretty much said Zadorov is part of the future of the Avalanche’s blueline.

Next: Avs New Year's Resolutions

Ultimately, Erik Johnson is a big, physical defenseman with elite skating and excellent puckhandling. He is the cornerstone of the Colorado Avalanche defense, and his loss is a big blow to a team looking to make a run at the playoffs. We all hope “five to 12 days” is accurate — and that’s it’s closer to the five-day mark.

UPDATE: On the 104.3 Fan Morning Show, coach Roy remarked that the team is confident enough that Erik Johnson won’t be out with his injury that they didn’t even place him on injured reserve.

Note on handedness: Coach Roy’s preference in defensemen has been to pair a righty with a lefty.