There was an ominous quote from Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche in the paper the other day. Via the Denver Post:
“It’s my desire to stay here, but it has to work for both sides and I’m all for working with the team and trying to fit into the structure. I’m not out to get something over my value on the market. I’m going to work with them and I hope they work with me and we can get something done.”
Oh man, that sure raised a few red flags. Work for both sides? That sounds a lot like code for “don’t undervalue me, or I will find out what my value is.”
The Avalanche decided to make it work for both sides yesterday as they signed Johnson to a seven-year, $42 million dollar deal. Via the Denver Post, but a totally different article:
Johnson, 27, is under contract for the upcoming season, at $4.25 million, but could have been an unrestricted free agent July 1 if he didn’t re-sign with Colorado. Because the contract is neither front- nor back-loaded, paying him $6 million a year, the cap hit and his salary will be the same each season.
So that got done. Good for the Avs, and good for Johnson. Johnson is a good defenseman whose mind sometimes works faster than his body. Watching him play and improve over the last few seasons, you can see him directing the defense and the centers to do what they need to do. He reads plays well.
Form the Avalanche perspective, they had a few contract snafus lately that Johnson seemed to fit in between. On one side, you had Peter Stastny being undervalued and moving on when his UFA status came around. On the other, you had Ryan O’Reilly who played hardball with his RFA contract and made himself expendable. Johnson could have tested the market and gotten the same money as the Avalanche gave him, if not a little more, depending on what the market for defensemen is next off-season.
Johnson was a number one overall draft pick. While his play has been criticized by many in relation to his draft status, it’s worth remembering he did all of his developing as a player in the NHL. Number one overalls don’t usually get much time in the minors to develop, as the reason a team got the number one overall pick is they were usually pretty bad, so they need the help immediately. And also, keep in mind that the closer to the goal line you get, the longer it takes to develop as a player. It’s no wonder he took a little longer to grow into his role as a top-pair defenseman.
Johnson spent more time in the minors than many of the Avalanche’s top young stars: one game. That’s one game more than Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, or former Av Ryan O’Reilly. Of Jarome Iginla, for that matter. That’s a lot of guys in top roles with less seasoning than the spaghetti sauce at Olive Garden. It helps explain the cyclical struggles the team’s young stars have.
Good for the Avalanche for getting this done. It makes for less interesting free agency, but I’ll take it. The Avalanche need defense. They did the right thing locking up some solid D for several years to come.