Erik Johnson has been a great ambassador for the Colorado Avalanche organization since it was acquired in 2011. Jack Johnson has been steady and done everything the Avalanche asked of him when he was with the team.
If the two decide to keep playing (which is a real question), there’s really only room to bring one of them back at a bargain price. Bringing both back seems unlikely, so if they choose to bring one back, which Johnson makes the most sense?
Now, there’s always a chance the Avalanche will decide it’s time to move on from the two, which could be the right move. For the sake of discussion, let’s take a look at their two numbers with Colorado from the year before and see who makes the most sense to return to a depth role.
After the Game 7 loss to the Kraken, Erik Johnson was very emotional, as it clearly hit him hard. An emotional situation like this is not the best way to know if someone wants to keep playing, because they need to take time to really understand what they want to do. He said it after the game.
Now 35, EJ wanted to continue playing after the Cup win, where he looked rejuvenated. Last season he was up and down, and foot speed (or lack thereof) really seemed to be an issue. In a league based on speed, that’s a problem.
The previous year, he scored eight goals, which was his highest goal tally since 2017-18. In 2022-23, he didn’t score a single goal, but bad luck played a part in that. He still registered 98 shots on goal, and you’d think one of them would eventually find its way. He scored a big goal in Game 6 against Seattle, his only of the year.
His most common defensive partner over the past year has been Samuel Girard. The two spent almost 330 minutes together and generally spent more time on the right side of the ice, but their expected percentage goals were below 50%. His other most common partner was Devon Toews, and it was the same issues there, as they finished with an expected goal percentage of 44.73% in nearly 154 minutes together.
Overall, the Avalanche finished with 47.26% of expected goals with EJ on the ice. Only Bowen Byram finished lower than regular defenders. The biggest thing separating EJ from JJ might be his good shot, as having an extra forehand is important to coaches, who prefer players on their strong side. The team still trusted EJ shorthanded, as he averaged more time on the ice shorthanded than any other defenseman not named Makar or Toews.
A big question would be – is EJ open to being an extra defender? He really hasn’t had to be that in his career, and sometimes that’s an adjustment.
In late February, the Avalanche came out and bought out Jack Johnson because they wanted a defenseman they could trust to eat a few minutes. He did exactly what they asked of him, stepping in and immediately taking on some of the charge from the top four defenders. He actually managed to score two goals, doubling his tally from the previous year, but no one expects much offense from him.
After being redeemed, his most common partner was Bowen Byram. Together, their numbers on the ice weren’t great, but they were supported by both high shooting percentage and high save percentage. He was limited to just 25 games with the Avalanche, so it’s a much smaller sample, but his expected percentage goals were 51.53%, significantly higher than EJ’s. On the other hand, the Avalanche controlled fewer even-strength shot attempts with JJ on the ice compared to EJ. They used him a lot in a defensive role, as he started 33% of his shifts at the end of Colorado. He was also used shorthanded at about the same rate, averaging just nine seconds less than Erik.
In the playoffs, a lower-body injury didn’t allow Jack to dress until Game 5. When he came back, his numbers on the ice weren’t great, but he didn’t look 100% either. At his age, that might still be something you need to move on. Like EJ, Jack is far from an on-ice burner, but his skating doesn’t seem to have dropped much from the previous year.
The honest answer? It might be better to just switch from both. Find a younger depth that can skate with the rest of the team.
But if you’re looking to bring one back for depth, Jack seems to make more sense. He’s played that role with the team before, and on the ice he didn’t look so different from the year before. EJ, on the other hand, seemed to take a step back. In the back of your mind, you still wonder if this decline continues. It also emerged that come playoff time, head coach Jared Bednar was ready to play JJ against EJ, but an injury prevented him from doing so. This might give you an idea of where the organization might be leaning. Erik has been such an important part of the organization and the leadership group for a decade, so it’s a tough decision, but tough decisions like this have to be made.
Both pose the risk of a steep drop given their age, which is why it might make sense to just move on and find younger depth, but between the two it seems like Jack would be a better fit. to a deep role. That’s the key word – depth. Neither should be expected as anything other than depth at this point in their careers.