Erik Johnson, at 27, is an anchor for the Colorado Avalanche blue line. The former first overall pick has amassed 48 goals and 193 points in 456 career regular season games — as the top right shot in Colorado’s system, Johnson was a priority to be re-signed before he hit unrestricted free agency.
So, the team gave him his deal nice and early — Johnson has been inked to a seven year extension, worth $42 million total. Set to kick in at the start of the 2016-2017 season, the contract (per Andy Strickland) comes saddled with a modified no-trade clause; Johnson will have at least some control over his future as a $6M AAV player for Colorado until he’s 35.
For Colorado, that’s probably a good deal. With 12 goals in a 47 game campaign in 2014-2015, Johnson was poised to have a career year before a lingering knee injury sidelined him for almost two months right before the All-Star Game. Out for the entire 2008-2009 season for another knee injury — suffered during an off-ice incident involving a golf cart — Johnson was quite possibly on pace to be one of Colorado’s top three goal scorers last year before the team opted to shut him down to repair his knee.
If Johnson returns next year at full strength and doesn’t have any more knee issues, the American-born defenseman will be a tremendous add — especially at that cost. $6M AAV is cheaper for Colorado than ten of the league’s best defenseman on an annual basis; the Avalanche could be getting Johnson’s best (and healthiest) years at a bit of a discounted rate.
If Johnson’s knee continues to be a problem, though — or if he continues to have issues with injuries lingering longer than expected — then this is a cap hit that could be a pain to carry over time.
Ultimately, that’s the risk and reward of a hard-cap sports league; in order to hold on to the top-tier right shot long term, the team has to take the risk that he may continue to struggle with physical health issues in the coming seasons. It doesn’t seem all that likely, either — but it’s certainly a factor that has to be watched, with as much time missed for an injury as Johnson had.
With Johnson locked up, the Avalanche may have gotten one monster deal out of the way — but they’re far from finished. Notable names like Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, Mikhail Grigorenko, and now Brandon Gormley will all be RFA’s next year (and that’s not counting the team’s fourteen other RFA’s, including netminder Calvin Pickard) and both Zach Redmond and Alex Tanguay lead a UFA class that isn’t all that small, either. MacKinnon and Barrie are likely the two names that the Avalanche will need to tackle next, but there could be plenty of names that make a case for seeing a nice fat raise. Keep an eye out for more Avalanche contract news, because it’s bound to come throughout the year.