Colorado Avalanche: The Importance of Locker Room Leadership

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 04: Erik Johnson #6 of the Colorado Avalanche plays the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center on October 4, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 04: Erik Johnson #6 of the Colorado Avalanche plays the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center on October 4, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

If it’s so important to keep “locker room cancer” out of the Colorado Avalanche dressing room, it’s equally important to keep the opposite in place, Erik Johnson.

The Colorado Avalanche have a tight locker room.

Yes, practically any locker room that doesn’t have a feud between Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman is said to be tight, but Colorado appears to be comprised of a big group of friends who are just really good at hockey.

They even go to Nuggets games en masse:

The need for locker room — or dressing room, if you will — chemistry is a well-known intangible. You’ll hear coaches and even GMs talk about whether a player is a “good in the room,” as Avs insider Adrian Dater (and many hockey insiders) puts it.

It goes well beyond individual players, of course.

I’d have to say, though that locker room chemistry is a lot of what helped the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup last year. They had a group of guys so comfortable with each other they’d hug, chest bump, and even whack each others’ butts.

Those boys were tight.

Well, I haven’t seen any Avalanche players whacking butts, but they’re definitely no strangers to jumping into each other:

And they don’t even mind kissing:

Ok, the point is that the Avalanche’s dressing room is tight. Naturally, all the cogs in the machine are part of what makes it run smoothly. However, as with any organization, much of the chemistry starts with the leadership core.

I’m going to cut straight to the chase here. Alternate captain and the longest-tenured member of the team, Erik Johnson, is integral to the locker room chemistry. He’s a good guy in the room.

Johnson has always been known for his leadership. Even when he was a youngster with the St. Louis Blues, he wore the A as alternate captain. That direct recognition took a little time to come his way with the Colorado Avalanche, although there was a time Dater thought Johnson would be named captain of the Avs after Milan Hejduk.

Gabriel Landeskog was named captain, and I’d be the last person to say that was a wrong decision. However, Johnson had always been his right-hand man. When Landeskog was first drafted, he and Johnson roomed together when the team was on the road.

Here’s what the captain himself said of the situation:

"“I came in the league and E.J. was 23 or 24 years old, and I was 18. We were roommates on the road. We have a good relationship and know each other really well. He kind of took me under his wing when I came to the league, and we have grown together and been able to be there for each other and support one another.”"

In fact, it’s said openly that Johnson helped coach Landeskog on how to deal with the pressures of being a high draft pick (Erik went first-overall, Gabe second-overall in their respective draft years).

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I’ve also always thought of Johnson as Landeskog’s right-hand man. I think he states the tough words that need to be said while Gabe is the inclusive one. They work together to create the kind of ambience that’s indicative of a competitive team.

So, resolved, Erik Johnson is a good man in the room.

The point of this post comes in a recent rumor that the Colorado Avalanche were looking to trade for Patrick Marleau, the 39-year-old winger with one year left at $6.25 million coming his way.

Apparently the starter of the rumor, Nick Kypreos, named players teams might trade for Marleau. And one of the names mentioned was Colorado’s Erik Johnson.

What’s more, some Avs fans added fuel to the fire by suggesting the trade could be a one-for-one.

Now, Johnson took some heat for some of his questionable plays, especially late in the season. And then, lo and behold, it turns out Erik was playing with a shoulder injury that required surgery for quite some time.

But never mind his physical contributions for a second. Let’s consider Matt Duchene. Duchene has been called a “locker room cancer.” Indeed, when I suggested that the Colorado Avalanche needed Duchene’s services, the overwhelming response was, “No way, he’s not good in the room.” Locker room cancer.

Now, let’s look at the hockey side of things. Matt Duchene is good at the NHL level. Maybe not elite, but he managed 31 goals and 39 assists (70 points) last season. That’s the third time he’s hit that mark and the second time he’s scored 30 goals. (He’s also crazy good at faceoffs — almost always over 50%.)

Pretty good player. But not good in the room, so he’s not fit for the Colorado Avalanche.

So, I return to my initial idea. If it’s so important that Matt Duchene isn’t good in the locker room, doesn’t the opposite hold true? It’s so important that Erik Johnson is good in the room — especially good in the Colorado Avalanche’s dressing room.

Maybe not so good as to be untradable, but good enough that he should command a king’s ransom. Erik Johnson is the longest-tenured member of the Avalanche, the alternate captain, the captain of the blueline, the man who’s showed the most loyalty to the Colorado Avalanche.

Next. Johnson Shows his Worth to the Team. dark

That kind of player doesn’t come cheap. Such a player is certainly worth more than a year’s services of a has-been who will never care for this team.

The Colorado Avalanche deserve Erik Johnson. And that’s ok.