clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What freeing up Erik Johnson does to Colorado’s offseason plans

Looking at how the Avs move forward without EJ.

2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The loss of Colorado Avalanche defender Erik Johnson will be felt if not on the ice, most certainly off the ice.

Emily Kaplan of ESPN reported earlier this week of the departure of Erik Johnson, who will not re-sign for the Avs and instead either test out the free agent market or hang up his skates. The Condor leaves some big shoes to fill on the back end when it comes to size and leadership.

Already without captain Gabriel Landeskog for the entire 2023-24 season, the Avs will need to look for veteran leadership elsewhere in the locker room. While they have some, losing your two longest-tenured players at least for this season is going to be a tough challenge.

Johnson had been losing his step in the last couple of years, with glaring errors and looking slow at times. It is ultimately best to move on from EJ and shape a new, younger defense.

The only current players under contract who could come in for the Condor are Kurtis MacDermid and Brad Hunt. Of course, we know how MacDermid plays and how it is far from ideal when he plays generally speaking.

Hunt did a good job filling in as a seventh defenseman all year long and theoretically could play as Colorado’s sixth defender. But, as captain of the AHL-affiliate Colorado Eagles, there may be other plans in place for him.

With the Eagles also being a depleted group, there aren’t many options down there either. Keaton Middleton is one name that stands out, but he would play another MacDermid-like role. Wyatt Aamodt still has lots of development to do, and newly-signed college-free agent Sam Malinski still has a ways to go before breaking into the team. The same goes for hot prospect Sean Behrens who is still with the University of Denver Pioneers and needs time to work with the organization in Loveland.

Therefore, who does Colorado go with to fill this gaping hole?

If they really wanted to, they could go real young and throw one of Middleton, Aamodt, or Malinski to the wolves. They can continue to keep doing what they did last year with Hunt.

But, what may be more likely is re-signing JJ or looking on the market for another defender. A huge benefactor of Johnson leaving the team is some money from his $6M contract being freed up. Most of it will go to Nathan MacKinnon and his new monstrous $12.6M deal kicking in to start this season, but there is still plenty of money with Landeskog’s $7M on LTIR all year long.

Some of it has already been used up too for the move of Ryan Johansen from the Nashville Predators yesterday. Plus, other pieces need to be re-signed as RFA’s like Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram. With approximately $8M left in cap space, a move for a defender may be tough.

Looking at possible free agents, someone like Ryan Graves could possibly come back but would need to take a pay cut. Justin Holl could come from the Toronto Maple Leafs where he had a $2M cap hit but hasn’t performed well. Niko Mikkola is another name I’d look at from the New York Rangers at only 24 years old and just under $2M himself as a defensive defenseman.

With it already being a subpar free agency class, a trade is just maybe what needs to be done to fill the gap. The Johansen move was impressive, and working with another team needing to dump cap space could be a move the Avs utilize with their cap space available to them as well.

Time will tell what Chris MacFarland has up his sleeve. What do you think the Avs will do to fill EJ’s spot on defense? Let us know in the comments below!