It’s been a good summer in the Mile High City. General Manager Joe Sakic has done just about everything he needed to do to improve the Avalanche. Sakic has addressed team needs in multiple areas, from defense to the salary cap. The big trade he pulled at the NHL draft, in particular, was a big step in the right direction. And while it’s likely that no more new faces will be present at training camp in September, there is one more bit of business that needs to be dealt with. Erik Johnson needs a new contract.
In 2012 Johnson signed an extremely team friendly deal, $15 million over 4 years. He’s certainly due for a significant raise. Sakic has made no attempt to hide the fact that he wants to sign Johnson to an extension as soon as possible, and why wouldn’t he? Johnson is the team’s number one defenseman. Johnson’s been terribly underrated by many over the past few years, even to the point of being declared a bust, but for Colorado he’s invaluable. That creates a problem for the Colorado front office. They need to place a value on their invaluable defender without breaking the bank, and without low-balling him.
What’s He Worth?
It’s difficult to predict what a player is going to sign for given all the factors involved. But it’s pretty easy to see that young, talented defenders get a pretty big pay-day when they hit unrestricted free agency. If Johnson were to test the UFA market he’d have no shortage of suitors. Sakic desperately wants that not to happen. In terms of comparable players one that sticks out is Andrej Sekera, though more for age and less for ability. Sekera’s new salary with Edmonton is $6.5 million a season, and he’s 29. Johnson will be 28 next year, and most Avalanche fans will tell you that Johnson is a better defender than Sekera is. By that logic Johnson should be making more.
Johnson also has offensive upside. He had a career year for goals last season, despite only playing in 47 games. He could have had 20 goals if he stayed healthy. This is why Sakic is so intent on extending Johnson’s stay in Denver for as long as possible. For a team with a record in recent years of having sub par defense, losing their best defender is out of the question. What Colorado is hoping for is that the player would rather stay in Denver than go elsewhere. Johnson is worth more than $6.5 million a season, but is staying in Colorado worth the discount? It’s impossible to know what’s going on inside any players head when it comes to what he wants. Paul Stastny told reporters that he would take a hometown discount to stay in Denver, but when the Blues came with their big money offer it was too much to resist.
Sakic has to find the right number early. It can’t be too low, because he would run the risk of alienating the player. But starting off too high and you run the risk of cap trouble. No Avalanche fan would be mad about a deal in the six million dollar or more range, but going up into the eight million range and things start to get dangerous, especially when Tyson Barrie and Nathan MacKinnon will be restricted free agents next year. In all likelihood Johnson is worth somewhere between six million dollars and eight million if he were to hit the open market.
When Does He Sign?
He signs soon, hopefully. Sakic wants to get his deal done before the season starts.
Well Erik Johnson is going to be an unrestricted free agent after next season, so we are hopefully going to get him done.
It’s absolutely imperative that Colorado get this done before next off-season. Going into a bidding war, while trying to stay in control of your own salary cap, could quickly turn into a disaster. An even worse fate would be if they lost the player for nothing to a rival team in the west. If Johnson wants to stay in Colorado then a deal should get done this summer, or early in the season. If negotiations start to turn sour, much like they did with Ryan O’Reilly then Johnson could be dealt come March. That deadline is a long ways away though, too long to even think about, really. Colorado are going to do everything they can to make sure a deal gets done sooner rather than later. Johnson’s last contract was a wonderful team friendly deal that could suggest Denver is the place he wants to be. By all accounts he’s very happy playing for the Avalanche. If Sakic can get him signed long-term without breaking the bank then Colorado Avalanche fans will also be very happy about him playing at the Pepsi Center.
Born and raised in Denver, I’m a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. I have a degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University.