Avs sign Johnson to seven-year, $42M extension

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After rumblings that an extension was close, Colorado and top defenseman Erik Johnson made it official on Tuesday.

The Avalanche announced that the deal is for seven years, while ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun puts the annual cap hit at $6 million, making it a hefty $42 million overall.

“Erik is a big part of the core of this team,” Avs GM Joe Sakic said. “We felt it was important for our franchise to secure his rights for the long term as he enters the prime years of his career.”

Johnson, 27, is in the last season of a four-year, $15 million deal with a $3.75M average annual cap hit. With his new contract, he leapfrogs Francois Beauchemin as Colorado’s highest-paid defenseman.

Johnson’s big payday comes after taking his game to a new level last season, scoring a career-high 12 goals while averaging a career-high 24:25 before a knee injury ended his campaign in January.

The extension was important for both parties. Johnson was a pending UFA and would’ve been one of the more sought-after blueliners on the open market; with him locked up, Colorado now has a top defenseman for the forseeable future.

The organization is light on blueline prospects, thanks partly to the fact six of its last seven first-round picks were used on forwards — the only d-man selected, Duncan Siemens (11th overall in 2011), has yet to make his NHL debut.

That said, the club did acquire former Buffalo first-rounder Nikita Zadorov in the Ryan O'Reilly trade, and has a talented offensive defenseman in Tyson Barrie, who finished eighth among NHL d-men in scoring (53 points) last year.