Erik Johnson has been a great ambassador for the Colorado Avalanche organization since he was acquired way back in 2011. Jack Johnson has been steady and done everything the Avalanche have asked of him when he’s been with the team.
If both of them decide to keep playing (which is a real question), there’s really only room to bring back one of them on a cheap deal. Bringing back both seems unlikely, so if they do choose to bring back one, which Johnson makes the most sense?
Now, there’s always a chance the Avalanche decide it’s time to move on from both, which could be the right move. For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at both of their numbers with Colorado from the previous year and see who makes more sense to return in a depth role.
After the Game Seven loss to the Kraken, Erik Johnson was very emotional, as it clearly hit him hard. An emotional situation like that isn’t the best to figure out if someone wants to keep playing, as they need to take some time away to really figure out what they want to do. He said as much after the game.
Now 35, EJ wanted to continue playing after the Cup win, where he looked rejuvenated. This past season, he was up-and-down, and foot-speed (or lack of) really looked to be an issue. In a league built on speed, that’s an issue.
The previous year, he scored eight goals, which was his highest goal total since 2017-18. In 2022-23, he scored zero, but some bad luck played a role in that. He still registered 98 shots on goal, and you figure one of those would eventually find its way in. He did score a big goal in Game Six against Seattle, his only on the year.
His most common defensive partner this past year was Samuel Girard. The two of them spent nearly 330 minutes together, and generally spent more time on the right side of the ice, but their expected goals for percentage was sub-50%. His other most common partner was Devon Toews, and it was the same issues there, as they finished with an expected goals for percentage of 44.73% in almost 154 minutes together.
Overall, the Avalanche finished with 47.26% of the expected goals with EJ on the ice. Only Bowen Byram finished lower of the regular defensemen. The biggest thing separating EJ from JJ might be his right shot, as having an extra right shot around is big for coaches, who prefer players on their strong side. The team still trusted EJ on the penalty kill, as he averaged more time-on-ice shorthanded than any other defenseman not named Makar or Toews.
One big question would be – is EJ open to the idea of being an extra defenseman? He really hasn’t had to be that in his career, and sometimes, that’s an adjustment.
Back at the end of February, the Avalanche went out and re-acquired Jack Johnson, as they wanted a defenseman they could trust to eat some minutes. He did exactly what they asked of him, stepping in and immediately taking some of the load off the top four defensemen. He actually managed to score two goals, doubling his total from the year before, but no one expects much offense from him.
After being re-acquired, his most common partner was Bowen Byram. Their on-ice numbers together were not great, but they were propped up by both a high shooting percentage and save percentage. He was limited to just 25 games with the Avalanche, so it’s a much smaller sample size, but his expected goals for percentage was 51.53%, significantly higher than EJ’s. On the flip side, the Avalanche controlled less of the shot attempts at even strength with JJ on the ice compared to EJ. They used him heavily in a defensive role, as he started 33% of his shifts in Colorado’s end. He was also used on the penalty kill at about the same rate, averaging just nine seconds less than Erik.
Come postseason, a lower-body injury didn’t allow Jack to dress until Game Five. When he did return, his on-ice numbers weren’t pretty, but he also didn’t appear to be 100%. At his age, that could always be something you’re dealing with moving forward. Like EJ, Jack is far from a burner on the ice, but his skating didn’t appear to drop off much from the year before.
The honest answer? It might be best to just move on from both of them. Find some younger depth that can skate with the rest of the team.
But if you’re looking to bring back just one 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 all that different than the year before. EJ, on the other hand, seemed to take a step back. In the back of your head, you’re always wondering if that decline continues. It also appeared that come playoff time, head coach Jared Bednar was ready to play JJ over EJ, but an injury didn’t allow him to do that. That could give you an idea on which way the organization might lean. Erik has been such a big part of the organization and leadership group for a decade, so it’s a tough decision, but tough decisions like this need to be made.
Both bring the risk of a big drop-off 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 in a depth role. That’s the key word – depth. Neither should be expected as anything more than depth at this point in their careers.