Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Johnson's goals: win, make Blues pay

Defenseman hopes team that drafted him, traded him regrets decision

ST. LOUIS -- Erik Johnson wants the Blues to pay for trading him away. He didn't waste any time making good on his claim.

Johnson, playing in his second game for the Colorado Avalanche, had to feel like he netted the Stanley Cup-winning goal Tuesday night.

His sixth of the season snapped a 2-all tie and helped the Avalanche break a 10-game winless slide by downing the Blues 4-3 at Scottrade Center.

After Johnson beat Ty Conklin with a slap slot coming down the slot with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the game, he was mobbed by teammates on the ice as he pumped his fist in the air.

It's a natural reaction from a 22-year-old defenseman, who arguably still hasn't reached his full potential, who was the top overall draft pick.

"Lots of different emotions," an elated Johnson said after the game. "I just wanted to make sure I didn't celebrate at the wrong bench. I wanted to make sure I went by the right side to make the fist pumps.

"It's a very wonderful feeling to score against your old team in your old building in the first game back after the trade ... after an emotional trade I didn't expect, but a trade I'm very happy to be with Colorado. It's a great way to cap off a night."

Johnson, who was dealt along with center Jay McClement and a conditional first-round pick this year or 2012 to Colorado for a pair of first-round picks in power forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk along with a conditional 2011 or 2012 second-round pick, was back in town with McClement and his Avalanche teammates for Tuesday night's game against the Blues.

Johnson, who readily has admitted this season hasn't been as good as would have liked, is now on the other side of the ledger and he openly is poised to make the Blues and general manager Doug Armstrong regret dealing him away -- and so soon.

"I want to make them live to regret trading Erik Johnson," Johnson said following Tuesday morning's skate. "I think any player who wants to be a great player in this league would say the same thing. They got two good hockey players over there. This team got two good hockey players over here, but at the end of the day, I want to make them regret it."

The deal gave each organization a huge makeover. The Blues needed a big-bodied forward with a nose for the goal. The Avs were in a desperate search for a player they think can be a cornerstone d-man for the future.

"Sometimes you need that, to kind of inject the fresh blood and get stuff stirred up," Blues winger Brad Boyes said. "Doug's been around for a long time, he's a respected GM and he knows what he's doing. He's doing what he thinks is right to improve our hockey club. This is a deal that he believes (in), and we're going to believe it, too."

Johnson admitted only being in the visiting locker room "maybe once" prior to Tuesday morning. He definitely has immediate goals in mind, as well as long-term ones.

"It's going to be a different experience out there, but I want to beat them more than I want to beat anybody else," Johnson said of the Blues. "It's just like playing another team, and I definitely want to get another win.

"It's nice to know that Colorado wanted me and inquired about me for the last two or three weeks to a month trying to inquire about me. It's amazing how things can change so quickly and how things end up the way they do. It's nice to be wanted in Colorado. Hopefully, it works out for both teams. I have a lot of respect for the St. Louis Blues organization."

Avs center Paul Stastny, a close friend and linemate of Stewart, admitted that sometimes to make deals like this, it takes sacrifice on both ends.

"It's kind of bittersweet. It's tough, you lose 'Stewy' ... one of my good friends and one of our top players," Stastny said. "Then obviously we get E.J., who's a good buddy of mine too and a top-caliber defenseman. Sometimes to get a lot, you have to give a lot. I think it's big for us to add a piece like him to our d core that's been missing."

McClement, who has been with the Blues organization since being selected in the second round in 2001 (57th overall) and was the team's first draft choice that season, was with Johnson Friday night as the Blues touched down from Buffalo following a 3-0 win.

Both knew something was going on when Armstrong was awaiting the team at the airport awaiting to give them the news firsthand.

In a matter of hours, both were on a flight to San Jose and in the Avalanche lineup Saturday night.

"It sinks in pretty quick when you're in the lineup for another team 24 hours later," McClement said. "I think it was good to get in a game right away. It's the best way to get to know the guys, get to know the coaches and what this team's all about.

"They have a good young team. Obviously they've had some injury problems, but I think it's an exciting opportunity for me and Erik. Now that the dust has settled, I'm definitely looking forward to it. A new challenge, a new opportunity, a new city."

McClement added that it's not about proving anyone wrong, as far as he's concerned.

"I feel pretty lucky to have been here for six years," he said. "I don't have any hard feelings or anything like that. Everyone's going to move on at some point in their career, so I feel pretty lucky. I have nothing but good memories here. It's a great organization, good people, I had a lot of great friends here.

"For me, it's not about proving them wrong. It's about proving these guys right and proving myself here. I think of myself as a proven player here and fit into their future here."

The Avalanche will be here again in March. By then, all players involved will be firmly entrenched in their new cities and new teams.

"As much as I love St. Louis, things change and things happen," Johnson said. "That's the part of hockey and that's the tough side of the sport. At the same time, I don't think I could have gone to a better city. It's a team that's got a great organization, a team that's won Stanley Cups in the past, who know what it takes to win. I think it speaks volumes they want me in Colorado. It's nice to be here. I'm really excited.

"The Blues are a first-class organization, treated me with a great amount of respect. I've got a lot of respect for all the people I've met here. It's a great opportunity I had here. It's a great opportunity I have in Denver going forward. I hope to see them get back to the top where they have been in the past."

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