D-man Johnson won’t dodge this shot, either
Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, who turned 29 on Tuesday, is signed through the 2022-23 season, at $6 million per year.
So his assessment of how things have gone in this horrible season comes in a context of mutual long-term commitment.
“If you look at everybody up and down our lineup, we’re on pace for the worst offensive season of their careers,” Johnson said Tuesday morning. “I don’t know if that’s just bad luck of a combination of a lot of other things. It’s just been a terrible year for everyone.”
Johnson was a key part of the Avalanche’s euphoric 2013-14 regular season, when Colorado racked up 112 points in Joe Sakic’s first year as general manager and Patrick Roy’s first as coach. What has gone wrong since? Johnson noted the statistical points: The Avalanche is last in the league in goals scored (1.94 per game) and goals allowed (3.30). He could have added, but didn’t, that it goes hand in hand with managing to have the worst record in the league, by far, while scraping the league’s salary cap ceiling.
“If I had an answer, I’d love to give it to you,” Johnson said. “It’s tough to put into words the way this season has gone.
“I was thinking about it the other day. From last year, we’re missing only (Brad) Stuart, (Nick) Holden and (Nate) Guenin that were regulars, so realistically it’s the same team, maybe with some added pieces, and we had 90 points. We probably should have made the playoffs if we didn’t go on a skid the last six games. So I don’t know how there can be such a faceplant from last year. I don’t understand it, but it’s happened and it’ll be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next six months.”
Johnson’s basic point is sound in the sense that Colorado’s top10 scorers from 2015-16 all returned. Stuart played only six games last season before back issues sidelined him and he was brought out over the summer, though it didn’t give the Avs any cap relief.
Holden played all 82 games, Guenin 29. Jack Skille was the only other Av with the team at the end of the season who played more than half the games and didn’t come back, and Cody McLeod and Jarome Iginla were traded long after this season was down the drain. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov’s mercurial play and physical unreliability entered into the problems, even before he underwent seasonending hip surgery.
It didn’t help when Johnson suffered a broken fibula when blocking a shot Dec. 3 against Dallas. That came in the final game of the 0-4-1 homestand that followed a misleadingly decent 9-9-0 start. By the time he returned Feb. 25 after missing 36 games, the playoff hopes were history. Going into the Avalanche’s game against the Blues on Tuesday, he had only one goal and 11 assists in 35 games, was averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time and was a minus-7.
I asked Johnson if he still believes in first-year coach Jared Bednar’s system and the way he wants the Avalanche to play.
“If you look at the way our season’s gone, something has to change,” he said. “Whether that’s players, or systems, or whatever. I don’t think you can point the finger at one particular area and say that’s the reason why this season has happened. Otherwise, it would be fixed. There obviously needs to be changes somewhere and I’m sure Joe will do that because he’s not oblivious to what’s gone on here.
“I think up and down the organization, everything needs to be assessed and I’m sure it will. We’re the worst team in 20 years and that falls on first and foremost, the top players on this team.”
Johnson’s extension was part of Sakic’s strategy to tie up his “core” players long-term. Nathan MacKinnon also is signed through 2022-23, Gabe Landeskog through 2020-21, Tyson Barrie through 2019-20, plus Duchene and Varlamov through 2018-19.
“I signed here to be an Avalanche and play for Joe, and I still want to be here and be part of the solution,” Johnson said.
If there is one to be found.