April 5, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) controls the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period of the game at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
2011 Cap Hit: $2,600,000
2012 Status: RFA
In many ways, it was a tale of two seasons for EJ this year. Over the course of the first 21 games, his play ranged from just decent to absolutely dreadful, which isn't exactly comforting when you're talking about your #1 defenseman. EJ was on the ice for 26 of the team's 65 goals (40%) during that time, and he almost always looked like he was trying to do too much both with and without the puck. He and Hejda never seemed to click, and with the Captain debate and the blockbuster trade still fresh in everyone's minds, the media's spotlight was still very much on him. It was a bad situation for the 23-year-old blueliner, and his play highly reflected it.
However, after the 4-1 loss to the Sharks on November 20th and the ensuing bag skate, it was reported that EJ was sidelined with a groin injury. He ended up missing 5 games over the next 2 weeks. But when he got back, everything seemed different. Whether it was due to no longer being paired with Hejda, the attention of the hockey world shifting away from him, or a realignment of priorities during his time off, his play drastically turned around from December on. He hung back and concentrated more on playing a strong defensive game instead of jumping into the play all the time. His passes out of the defensive zone got better, simpler, and more on target. He became a very reliable presence on our blue line that ate up over 20 minutes almost every night without hurting the team. There were even some nights where he made the complete domination of a game look easy, such as when he created this Jones goal in late March. Near the end of the year, he even started to bring a few of his incredible shooting and puck moving skills back to his game - he had a 3 game goal streak in the middle of February - but he never allowed his offensive contributions to outweigh his defensive responsibilities.
He finished the year with 4G/22A/26Pts, the highest of any Avs blueliner and 9th on the team. It was the lowest single-season points total he's ever posted in the NHL, but his 2.6% shooting percentage and 986 PDO point to these low numbers being an anomaly instead of the norm. But even with his lowered offensive contributions, EJ still earned enough time to lead the team in average TOI, clocking in at 20:50 while playing significant amounts of time on both the PK and power play.
2012-13 Outlook: Even though he's an RFA this summer, there's no doubt Johnson will be re-signed. He's a member of our core and the anchor of our blueline moving forward. Also, with the possible retirement of Hejduk this summer, EJ's name will once again be considered for the Captaincy. Even if he's not given it, he'll most likely have at least a full-time A next year.
Andi's Take: We saw glimmers of greatness from EJ this year, and they seemed to be getting more and more frequent as the season went on. His number of facepalm inducing mistakes also seemed to drastically drop. If he can keep that progress up throughout next season, people are going to start noticing him for what he's doing right instead of what he's doing wrong. Even though his season started really rough, he completely turned it around and has started to become the defenseman we were promised when Sherman traded for him last season. I'm excited to see just how good he's going to get.
DDC's Take: To me, Johnson was a bit vexing. He started terrible (-12 first two months), then really turned it around in the middle of the season before fading badly down the stretch when he was needed most (-5 in March and April, 3 points in his last 20 games). We've all seen him be terrific but we've also seen him have terrible games (that dreadful -4 game against Pittsburgh comes to mind). He'll probably get a good grade here, but I'm disappointed in his lack of offense and his all-around consistency.
Cole's Take: EJ had a bit of an up and down season. He had a rough start to the year, struggling to clear pucks and playing too "soft" in battles along the boards. It seemed like maybe Johnson's "enlarged" role in Colorado was a bit too much. After some coaxing, however, Johnson started to provide some of the most well rounded defensive play since Rob Blake left the Avalanche. Might have started out a bit rough, but he absolutely earns an A as far as I'm concerned.
Oh, so you guys actually want a poll? Give EJ a final grade
A (12 votes)
B (133 votes)
C (86 votes)
D (11 votes)
F (1 vote)
243 total votes