D-man John­son won’t dodge this shot, ei­ther

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Frei Terry Frei: tfrei@ den­ver­post.com or @TFrei

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.

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