Just hours before the opening of the 2014–15 season, the summer's most heated drama finally came to a close.
After months of contentious negotiations, the Blue Jackets and center Ryan Johansen agreed on Monday morning to a new three-year, $12 million deal. Johansen will make $3 million in each of the first two years of the agreement, with the final year coming in at $6 million.
By limiting the term of the contract to three years, Columbus ensured that Johansen, a 22-year-old three-year veteran, would remain under team control at the end of the agreement, with one more year left as a restricted free agent. Johansen can claim victory because of the escalation of his salary in the final year to $6 million. That's the salary on which his arbitration rights will be based, setting him up for a large award ... if it gets to that point. Given what Johansen showed during his 33-goal breakout season in 2013–14, the Jackets aren't going to have a problem paying him at least $6 million for his services.
Both sides end up winners—Columbus gets its franchise center back in the lineup and Johansen is set for life. But ultimately, the deal is a clear vindication of the strong stance taken by Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Johansen had adamantly refused earlier proposals for a bridge deal saying, “I’ve earned more than a two- or three-year deal with my play,” and adding that he would consider anything less than a long-term agreement to be “a slap in the face.”
While Johansen got the deal up slightly from Kekalainen's three-year, $10.5 million offer, the team got the term it wanted at exactly the price it wanted for the first two years. That Johansen went to the mat over such a minor difference calls into question his refusal to recognize how much he was worth on the open market, and how little bargaining power he and other restricted free agents had this summer.
But now that the impasse is over, it's time for healing and looking ahead, which raises the question: What impact will this delayed signing have on Johansen's ability to improve on last season? Players who miss camp tend to struggle out of the gate, and while Jackets fans will gladly trade the pain of a slow start for the joy of having him in the lineup, it's likely that everybody will have to manage their expectations. Johansen has been skating on his own, but he's weeks behind his teammates in terms of being game-ready. Slow starts have a way of snowballing. The pressure is squarely on him now to prove that his protracted holdout was worth it.