The upcoming Seattle expansion draft is guaranteed to pose tough questions for teams who are deep in the NHL. The Colorado Avalanche are one of those—when healthy, of course—and when you look at the situation in Colorado, there is one key piece at the center of the team’s entire expansion draft problems.
That piece is Erik Johnson, a player currently on long-term injured reserve, and one that has played just four games this season. Despite his lack of impact so far this season on the ice, plenty of chat surrounds Johnson off it.
He is vital to the Avs, and one of the very few players on this roster with veteran experience. You can only imagine how smoother the Bowen Byram path would be with a season at the side of Johnson, something we probably are not going to see too much of.
However, it is with regards to the Seattle expansion draft where Johnson holds the keys for Colorado in the future.
Erik Johnson (upper body) is now on long-term injured reserve, per @CapFriendly.
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) March 7, 2021
The 32-year-old has a no-movement clause on his contract, which means he must be protected this summer in the expansion draft. However, with limited spaces available, he is taking up a valuable spot that the Avalanche simply have to give to someone else.
The hope is that Johnson will waive his no-movement clause, making him eligible for the move to Seattle. While the club would probably be happy to move on from his $6 million per year deal, it is unlikely that the Kraken would take Johnson from Colorado, as there are better options elsewhere.
But, what if Johnson does not waive his clause? What happens next for the Avalanche? This is certainly worth investigating, simply because it shows how important this decision, and cooperation from Johnson, is going to be.
Protecting three defenseman
It is highly likely that Colorado will protect one goaltender, three defensemen and seven forwards in the expansion draft. Let’s say for this example that they do that, and Johnson does not waive his no-movement clause.
That would leave the team protecting Johnson, Samuel Girard and Cale Makar, while Bowen Byram is on the exemption list as a rookie. There is one key name missing off the list, and if this happens, based on his play so far this season, there is no doubt that Seattle will happily take him out of Colorado.
Samuel Girard and Devon Toews both played 25 minutes last game for the #Avs. Will that continue?
"I think it's going to go up," Jared Bednar said.
He's comfortable they can handle it and has been tracking how top D around the league (Nurse, Jones) have played heavy minutes.
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) March 1, 2021
The player is of course Devon Toews, an excellent acquisition and a player who is already proving his worth to the team, especially considering the $4.1 million per year deal he signed in the offseason.
Unless something bizarre happens between now and the draft, based on current play, if Johnson does not waive his clause and the Avs protect three defenseman, Toews will surely be heading to become the No. 1 defenseman in Seattle.
Protecting four defensemen and four forwards
The second option when it comes to protection is to go with eight total out skaters, enabling the Avalanche to protect Toews as a fourth defenseman. In terms of defensive players, this would leave Ryan Graves as the best defenseman that the team could lose, though their problems on offense will be a greater cause for concern.
Moving to this style simply to protect Toews brings huge problems elsewhere.
With just four protection spots for their forwards, a top name will be on his way out of Colorado. Let’s say you protect the “top line” of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. You are left then with just one spot remaining.
My best guess would be that this goes to Andre Burakovsky, given that the club has invested in him and he has youth on his side in comparison to fellow second-liner Nazem Kadri.
This would leave Kadri as the prime option for Seattle, with Joonas Donskoi, Brandon Saad and others also available. Center depth is not easy to come by, so it would be a big call for the Avs to leave Kadri open, and a pretty simple call for the Kraken to snap him up.
Nazem Kadri continues to thrive in Colorado – 9 pts in his last 7 games 🔥
17 pts in 22 games overallhttps://t.co/8j3ccdBpsD
— Frozen Tools (@FrozenTools) March 7, 2021
The value of Erik Johnson
When you look at the two scenarios above, it shows just how valuable the spot is that is currently being given to Johnson. Without him on board, and keeping his no-movement clause in place, would see Colorado more than likely lose Kadri or Toews.
These are two big pieces of their immediate future, and in terms of Toews especially, a big piece of the long-term future. Potentially losing one over the summer would certainly alter the plans that this club are putting in place right now.
This all shows that the club need to get Johnson on board and waive his clause. Given his recent injuries, overall injury worries and the $6 million cap hit he carries, it is highly unlikely that Johnson would be the man taken by Seattle.
But to keep this team rolling, without them losing a big piece, Johnson needs to put himself in the shop window for the sake of the future.