Stanley Cup champion and longest-serving Colorado Avalanche skater Erik Johnson has informed the team he likely won't re-sign and plans to test free agency on Jul. 1, The Athletic's Peter Baugh reported on Thursday.
Johnson will become an unrestricted free agent and can sign a contract with whatever team he wishes for 2023-24 and beyond.
The 35-year-old played 717 games with the Avs over 13 seasons, enduring multiple rebuilds before the organization finally broke through and won a Stanley Cup in 2022, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
A former No. 1 overall pick by the St. Louis Blues in the 2006 NHL Draft, Johnson was a top-pairing defenseman for most of his tenure with the Avalanche, but ended up becoming a depth option on the team as the years wore on.
“He played 63 games this past season, and given how much teams value big, right-shot defensemen with playoff experience, there should be a market for him in free agency,” wrote Baugh on Thursday.
The fact is, Colorado is one of the deepest teams on the back end in the NHL, boasting a blue line of Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Josh Manson, Brad Hunt and Bowen Byram, and it makes sense that Johnson will join a team where his services will be more appreciated.
Still, he will always have the 2022 Stanley Cup, and head coach Jared Bednar said he played “probably his best hockey since I've been here” in the postseason.
“Who would've thought?” Johnson said after defeating the Lightning in Game 6. “Five years ago, dead last in the NHL. Now we're Stanley Cup champions.”
Colorado lost in seven games to the Seattle Kraken in the first-round of this season's Stanley Cup Playoffs, and afterwards, Erik Johnson was sentimental.
“If it's the end of the road or not, I was just proud to play here for as long as I did,” he said when asked about his future. “I'm just grateful for everything.”