With the new year fast approaching, the conversation is going to start picking up on potential contract extensions for players like Chad Johnson. That’s because players on one-year deals are eligible to sign extensions starting Jan. 1.
Is it too early for the Flames to start going down that road with Johnson? And what might a new deal look like for one of Calgary’s most pleasant surprises this season?
The Flames have two players who become eligible for contract extensions come Jan. 1: Johnson and Kris Versteeg. While the former is who we’re discussing today, both players should open up some very interesting dialogue in terms of their future in Calgary. On the Johnson front, I broke my analysis down into two categories to try and get a gauge on what a new deal might look like.
Judging his entire 21 game body of work, Johnson has had a very solid season. Overall, he’s been the the better of Calgary’s two goalies by a fairly significant margin, as illustrated below.
Part of Johnson’s solid season was a stellar 13 game run between Nov. 15 and Dec. 10 when he played the position as well as anyone on the planet. During that stretch, Johnson went 11-2-0 with a 0.947 save percentage, the best mark in the league during that time period. It was a run reminiscent of Miikka Kiprusoff’s best years in Calgary and was the driving force behind the team’s season-saving turnaround.
Now, hockey like that is usually not sustainable and Johnson has now lost his last three starts since that 13 game tear. However, it was a pretty eye-opening month of hockey and by far the best goaltending the Flames have received this season. It’s not like playing good hockey is something new for Johnson, though.
Prior to joining the Buffalo Sabres last season, Johnson had built up a reputation as one of the most reliable and consistent backup goalies in the league. Then last season, after an early injury to Robin Lehner, Johnson got a shot to be counted on for an extended period of time as a number one and he thrived.
Johnson started 40 games last season with the Sabres and, on one of the league’s worst teams, still managed an impressive 0.920 save percentage. In fact, in two seasons when he’s actually been given a number one shot, Johnson has been one of the league’s better goalies. Below is a look at his save percentage totals dating back to the start of the 2015-16 season and where it puts him in relation to the rest of the league.
While not necessarily elite, Johnson has posted numbers commensurate with a number one goalie’s over his last 66 games (61 starts). For me, I view Johnson as a viable number one on a team lacking an elite option like Carey Price, Cory Schneider, or Ben Bishop.
While Johnson isn’t necessarily at the top tier level, with a career 0.918 save percentage he’s proven the ability to punch in quality starts on a regular basis. That’s not something the Flames have had in abundance in their recent history.
So we’ve established what type of goalie Johnson has been the last number of years, and, specifically how well he’s played since the start of last season. Now, for sake of this conversation, let’s assume the Flames have a desire to sign him to a contract extension. What might that deal look like?
To start getting a better idea, I came up with a list of players who have signed extensions in recent years with similar situations as Johnson’s now. All four had similar circumstances and numbers prior to their latest deals and, at the age of 30, I think Johnson compares nicely.
The most interesting case for a Johnson comparison is Talbot’s because of how similar their circumstances were. Talbot signed his three-year, $12.5 million contract extension on Jan. 17 of 2016 about halfway into his first season with the Edmonton Oilers.
Much like Johnson, Talbot had gotten his first real shot the year prior with the New York Rangers after Henrik Lundqvist went down for a period of time. And, much like Johnson, he found himself on a new team the following season. If you’re Johnson, why wouldn’t you be using Talbot’s deal with the Oilers as a jumping off point?
Based on his numbers this season with Calgary, Johnson has a pretty good case to to be in Talbot’s ballpark at the very least. Below is a comparison of Johnson’s first few months with the Flames and Talbot’s work with the Oilers prior to signing his extension.
As you can see, Johnson’s numbers are superior across the board which makes a deal like Talbot’s very much a realistic proposition. That’s not a slight on Talbot, either, because he’s been crucial in Edmonton’s return to playoff contention this season. The more important point here is what Talbot’s measurables were prior to him signing an extension, because that’s where Johnson sits right now.
I think it’s too early to put pen to paper on a contract extension for Johnson right now. He’s started just 21 games with the Flames and, while he’s been very solid the last two years, I’d still like to see a larger body of work. That said, if Johnson is still playing hockey at this level into February and March, I’m probably ready to seal a deal somewhere in the range of those four goalies we looked at above.
It’s a pretty nice spot to be in if you’re Calgary. If Johnson keeps playing well and they sign him to, say, a three-year, $14 million extension, then the team has a solid, affordable option to buy time for Jon Gillies, Tyler Parsons, or someone else in the organization. If Johnson’s play falls off, or if the Flames want to chase someone like Ben Bishop in the offseason, then they have a goalie on an expiring contract who gave them a whale of a month to get them back into playoff contention.