Erik Johnson was probably placed in the bust bin by many puckheads after the first two months of last season. He entered the year with the Colorado Avalanche having been acquired in a blockbuster deadline trade in Feb. 2011. He responded with a minus-12, no goals and 9 points in his first 21 games of 2011-12.
Then came the bag skate on Nov. 21, when coach Joe Sacco sent a message to his team … and Johnson injured his groin in the process, missing nearly two weeks.
But when Johnson returned to the lineup, he salvaged his season — 26 points, 11 of them on the power play, and a minus-7 after that early season hole. The Avalanche saw enough to give the former No. 1 overall pick for the St. Louis Blues, a restricted free agent, a 4-year, $15 million contract on Tuesday.
"Since Erik's arrival in Colorado, he has provided stability, size and an offensive presence to our blueline," said Avalanche General Manager/Executive Vice President Greg Sherman. "At only 24 years of age, we believe that Erik will continue to grow his game and we are thrilled to have him under contract."
The $3.75 million cap hit makes him the highest paid Avs defenseman and takes him to unrestricted free agency in 2016. Considering what the players selected behind him in 2006 are receiving contractually, this is either a bargain or a statement on how underwhelming Johnson's career has been to this point. Or a little of both.
Here's Sacco from February, explaining what the Avs want out of their Johnson:
"The big thing for E.J. is, when he keeps things simple and he moves his feet, he's a very effective player. We talk about that all the time with him. He's a big man who can move, but he gets himself in trouble when he's planted. When he's moving, skating, and he's physical, he's a difference-maker."
Mike Chambers of the Denver Post notes that Johnson had a terrible last two games of the season that obscured his progress, and writes:
At some point EJ may become a consistent threat from the point, but right now his strength is using his size (6-4, 231), speed and an occasional mean streak in all three zones. In addition to producing goals, I'm sure he'd be the first to admit he could block more shots (he had 94; blue-liners Ryan O'Byrne and Jan Hejda had 141 and 134, respectively).
Good signing or bad signing for the Avs? What say you?