This is going to be a very tough time for Erik Johnson, these next one or two weeks.
These last three-and-a-half months have already been very tough for the Colorado Avalanche defenseman, who entered this season as the longest-tenured member of the roster and a big presence on and off the ice. If anyone deserved to be part of the Avalanche’s Presidents’ Trophy celebration the other night, it would have been EJ. He came to the Avs in 2011 as part of a trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart to the St. Louis Blues, the team that drafted Johnson No. 1 overall in 2006.
Since Jan. 30 of this year, however, Johnson hasn’t been a part of the Avs, on or off the ice. He was injured that night in his home state of Minnesota, from a check into the boards from Wild forward Jordan Greenway. Johnson was playing a puck along the boards, but got off balance a bit and was hit into the boards. He fell in reverse to his momentum and landed awkwardly onto the ice, appearing to hit face first.
When the Avs host the Blues on Monday night in Game 1 of a quarterfinal playoff series, Johnson will not be there. He has spent much of his time since the injury trying to get better, at times in Denver and at times at his off-season home in Southern California.
But, as his agent, Pat Brisson, told Colorado Hockey Now Sunday night: “He still has symptoms.”
Those symptoms are connected with a concussion injury. Erik Johnson had had several injuries prior in his NHL career, ranging from his knees to his shoulders. But never had he had concussion symptoms, or enough to keep him from playing anyway, until the Jan. 30 game in St. Paul.
Johnson’s overall situation with the Avalanche remains important to him and the team, in what might be termed by varying degrees. Johnson “does want to play,” in the future, Brisson told CHN. But he is 33, with two years left on his contract at a $6 million cap hit. If he does not waive his no-trade/no-movement clause, the Avs will be forced to protect him in the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft with the Seattle Kraken. The Avs almost certainly won’t want to protect him, and so if he doesn’t waive his NTC/NMC, they might be faced with the prospect of buying him out on the last two years of his deal.
Or, they could hope he returns to full health and keep him on the roster. Either way, there is risk on both sides.
In the meantime, Johnson can only rest and hope the symptoms clear, all the while having to watch a playoff series for the team he came to love (the Avalanche) against the team that drafted him but then traded him away (the Blues).