Ryan Johansen signs 3-year deal with Blue Jackets and the drama finally ends

 (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

Ryan Johansen just accepted a slap in the face.

That’s what the young center called the bridge contract the Columbus Blue Jackets offered in June. It wasn’t about the money; it was about the audacity of his employer not to offer a restricted free agent, with one standout year to his credit, the long-term deal his agent apparently believed he had earned.

On Monday, Johansen and the Jackets agreed to a 3-year bridge contract worth $12 million. Johansen will earn $3 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16, and then have that money double to $6 million in 2016-17. That’s a $4 million cap hit, and Johansen will be a restricted free agent at the end of the deal.

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Thus ends the most contentious free-agent negotiation of 2014.

It began back in June, when Johansen steadfastly refused to do a “bridge contract” with the Blue Jackets, saying, “I’ve earned more than a two- or three-year deal with my play” and that the bridge contract was “a slap in the face.”

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The gap between the sides seemed to widen every time they negotiated. The Jackets held tight with an offer of up to $3.5 million annually for up to three years. Johansen wanted more term.

In September, GM Jarmo Kekalainen blasted Johansen and his agent Kurt Overhardt for putting the individual over the team.


Team President John Davidson then blew the doors off the negotiations by revealing the Jackets’ rejected contract offers and likening the stance of Overhardt to “extortion” after he used players like Steven Stamkos as contract comperables.

While Overhardt made noise about KHL money, the Jackets’ situation on the ice suddenly changed: Both of Johansen’s linemates from last season were injured. Nathan Horton continued to deal with a degenerative back condition, and Boone Jenner was lost for weeks with a broken hand.

Did these injuries grease the gears to get this done? Probably, even if the Jackets only lost once in the preseason.

But the Jackets didn’t cave.


Getting Johansen in for $3 million this season and next was always the plan. If he puts together two more seasons like his breakout year – 33 goals, 30 assists – then $6 million would have been a given in Year 3 arbitration had this only been a two-year bridge. It’s going to be a high baseline for Johansen’s next deal with the Jackets, but that was also a given.

Kekalainen never said the team didn’t want to pay Johansen; they just didn’t want to pay him now.

As for Johansen, now he gets a chance to earn the contract he and his agent were delusional enough to believe he had already earned.