Colorado Avalanche D Erik Johnson Overlooked as Alternate

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
colorado avalanche
Oct 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) makes a save on a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson was disgracefully overlooked for the alternate captaincy.

Ever since the Colorado Avalanche announced that the alternate captaincy was up in the air, I’ve been drafting a post about defenseman Erik Johnson in my head. It seemed certain the cornerstone of the Avs’ blueline would finally get the leadership recognition he deserves.

However, the Avalanche have announced the alternate captaincy:

The plan is for defenseman Francois Beauchemin to always wear the A, while centers Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon alternate being alternates.

I will go so far as to say that, while all are more than worthy players, not a single player on that list deserves the leadership letter more than Erik Johnson.

History of Leadership

Erik Johnson was the first-overall selection in 2006, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything for captaincy. However, he wore the A for his draft team, the St. Louis Blues, for years — until he got traded to the Colorado Avalanche in February, 2011.

Erik Johnson wore the A for the Avs twice, but for very short stints. He was an alternate for a game against the Red Wings. And he wore it during some preseason play.

When Paul Stastny left after the 2013-14 season, it was thought Johnson might be named an alternate then. However, Patrick Roy went old school on the decision. He decided to show respect to future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla. This is what the team did with Ray Bourque back in Roy’s playing days, so it wasn’t so surprising to see him bestow the letter thus.

Roy always held Johnson’s leadership abilities in the highest esteem, though. He commented on more than one occasion that Johnson was a leader both on the ice and in the locker room — sometimes EJ was the only true leader in Roy’s estimation.

I think Patrick Roy would have named Johnson an alternate this year or next.

New Alternates

I have nothing against Francois Beauchemin:

Related Story: Beauchemin's Value to the Avs

Matt Duchene:

Related Story: Duchene vs Tavares

or Nathan MacKinnon:

Related Story: Top 5 MacKinnon Moments

Of the three, I think Beauchemin actually shows the most leadership qualities. However, he’s essentially a rental player finishing out his career with the Colorado Avalanche. If you’re going to go that route with an alternate, why not just keep the future Hall of Famer, Jarome Iginla, in the leadership structure?

I’ve been of two minds about Matt Duchene’s leadership qualities for a while now. I think he’s probably very vocal in the locker room. And there’s no doubting he’s a leader with his play. However, I’ve gotten the feeling at times that he focuses too much on himself. I don’t mean just the 30th-goal celebration, but that could be seen as indicative of his instincts.

(Note: Yes, I expect to catch hell for that.)

Nathan MacKinnon and leadership don’t go together in my mind.  It’s not just that MacKinnon is one of the biggest goofballs. I’ve just never seen him do anything on-ice (outside of his play), in practices or in interviews that denotes a leader. He seems more destined to be a star than a leader. But I guess in Jared Bednar’s mind, the two go hand-in-hand.

Erik Johnson’s Leadership Qualities

colorado avalanche
Sep 20, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team USA defenceman Erik Johnson (6) takes a shot as he is checked by Team Canada defenceman Shea Weber (6) during preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Canada won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

More from Mile High Sticking

I return to my original premise. As great as Beauchemin, Duchene and MacKinnon are, none of them deserve the alternate captaincy more than Erik Johnson.

Previously the alternates were all forwards. Many Avs fans felt someone in the defensive corps should wear a letter. Johnson doesn’t necessarily showcase more leadership than Beauchemin. However, he’s more of a core player. He’s been tapped as the cornerstone of the blueline. Beauchemin was brought in to partner him. It makes no sense to elevate the rental player over the core player.

Duchene and MacKinnon aren’t as great of leaders. I’ve remarked more than once that I commonly see Johnson taking control of practices for his defensemen. He’s often served as a liaison between the coaches and the players. I’ve never seen Dutchy or MacK do that.

Same goes for during games. Johnson has really shown a lot of maturity in recent years. He’s been respectfully vocal with officials. No offense, but MacK and, especially, Dutchy just tend to yell at them.

I’ve often thought Johnson must be a real leadership presence in the locker room. He’s very good friends with captain Gabriel Landeskog, and I think EJ might sometimes say the criticisms that Gabe hesitates to release. Yet he’s as even-keel as they come when talking about touchy subjects.

I’m going to go out on a limb here — get ready to remark about my wearing tin foil hats. EJ was good with Roy, more so than any of the new alternates. Maybe that puts him on the outs with the current regime. Or maybe Jared Bednar just thinks an NHL team’s leadership is about popularity.

Erik Johnson should be the Colorado Avalanche’s alternate captain. Period.