Under pressure: Erik Johnson


This is part of Colorado Avalanche day at PHT…

The biggest flaw the Colorado Avalanche had in the Patrick Roy era was their inability to keep the puck out of their own zone.

During Roy’s time behind the bench only two teams in the NHL (Toronto and Buffalo) allowed their opponents to attempt more shots than the Avalanche, and they were consistently among the worst possession teams in the league.

It’s been a huge problem and has significantly held back a team with a pretty talented group of forwards. They really haven’t done much to address the position in a meaningful way in the short-term.

That means, for now, that it is going to be on the returning players to improve.

Perhaps the most important player in that regard is Erik Johnson, who is just now entering the first year of a seven-year, $42 million contract extension. It’s a big investment, and with that type of contract comes a ton of expectation. Especially when you are supposed to be one of the top guys at a position that has been a significant weakness in recent years. If the group doesn’t improve and doesn’t get better, he is going to be one of the players with the target on his back.

It’s not hard to understand why the Avalanche — and so many others around the NHL — are still high on Johnson. He is a talented player and at times can flash the ability that made him the top pick in the draft.

But injuries have slowed him down at times in his career, and the Avalanche really haven’t found a partner that really excels with him. Before this past season he spent most of his time alongside Jan Hejda, but with him out of the picture in 2015-16 hey tried Francois Beauchemin next to him. It was a pairing that posted some horrific numbers across the board, getting badly outshot and outscored when they were on the ice, something you don’t really want to see coming from one of your highest paid players.

Perhaps a new system under a new coach can help (it certainly can’t hurt, based on the results of the Roy era), but whatever makes it happen if the Avalanche are going to return to the playoffs anytime soon they have to get better play from their blue line. And with little change from the group that ended last season it’s going to fall on players like Johnson — again, just now starting a huge contract extension — to play significantly better than they have in recent years.