After being drafted first overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2006 Entry Draft, defenseman Erik Johnson played one season at the University of Minnesota before making his NHL debut. He has competed internationally for the United States at multiple levels, most notably as part of the silver medal winning team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Johnson spent the first two-plus seasons of his NHL career, with a knee injury costing him the entire 2008-2009 season in-between, with the Blues before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche in February of 2011. He earned the first All-Star selection of his career last season, while scoring a career-high 12 goals along the way, and the Avalanche rewarded Johnson on Tuesday with a seven-year contract extension through the 2022-23 season. The Denver Post has reported that the deal is worth $42 million.
Johnson has played less than 50 games in two of the last three seasons, and a knee injury sidelined him after Jan. 21 last season. So the wisdom of giving him a seven-year deal that won’t start until the 2016-17 season, during which he will turn 29, has to be questioned.
Avalanche Executive Vice President Joe Sakic suggested that Johnson is entering the “prime years of his career”, which I respectfully disagree with. He has been productive over the last two seasons, including a career-high 30 assists in 2013-14 when he played 80 games, but that doesn’t mean he can sustain a similar level five years from now.
Durability concerns don’t go away, so as Johnson approaches and crosses 30 years old I don’t see him reversing the recent trend and becoming an iron man.
Johnson averaged a team-high 24:25 per game of ice time last season, and the Avalanche are certainly counting on him to take on similar playing time in future seasons. His production may remain solid when he is on the ice, but I think Colorado is taking a big risk by assuming that Johnson will provide a return on their substantial investment in him.