Like most guys in a contract year, Cam Atkinson tried to ignore his status as a pending free agent.
The Blue Jackets' forward, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Draft, tried to focus on hockey this season and nothing else.
Some things, however, are easier said than done. Atkinson did find himself thinking about his situation more than he liked, so he did something about it - signing a seven-year, $41.125 million contract extension Friday that will keep him in Columbus through the 2024-25 season.
"I mean, everyone's different, but a player would be lying if they said it wasn't in their head, because there are so many uncertainties throughout the year," Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. "Ultimately, and Columbus has known this since Day 1 … just that I wanted to be here."
Atkinson is a big piece to the puzzle for the Blue Jackets, after scoring 35 goals and finishing with 62 points last season, but he's off to a slower start than usual. He has just four goals and two assists in 14 games, and missed four games with a minor injury and illness.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE CONTRACT EXTENSION
It isn't the way Atkinson envisioned this season going, even though the Jackets are off to one of their best starts in franchise history.
With the certainty of a new deal stashed away, he plans to hit the gas pedal on his season - starting with the Blue Jackets' game against the New York Rangers on Friday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM).
Friday morning, hours after reaching agreement on the deal, BlueJackets.com caught up with Atkinson at Nationwide Arena, before he got on the ice for some individual work.
Here's what he had to say:
Q: Congrats, Cam. Keeping you around for a while, huh?
ATKINSON (laughs): "I know. It's exciting. I couldn't be happier. I think it was maybe weighing on my shoulders a little bit. Now, I can get back to just having fun, playing my game and winning some hockey games."
Q: Players in that situation always try to block out stuff like this, but how hard is that to do?
ATKINSON: "I mean, everyone's different, but a player would be lying if they said it wasn't in their head, because there are so many uncertainties throughout the year. Ultimately, and Columbus has known this since Day 1, especially this year, talking to [general manager[ Jarmo [Kekalainen] and J.D. [John Davidson] … just that I wanted to be here. Whatever it took to get a deal done, I think we both compromised and wanted to do something where I could stay here. Ultimately, that's what happened, and I couldn't be happier."
Video: CBJ@WPG: Atkinson opens scoring with breakaway beauty
Q: Why was it so important to you to stay here, rather than exploring unrestricted free agency?
ATKINSON: "There's a lot of reasons. One, I'm a very loyal guy. I got drafted here, and it's all I've ever known. I told Columbus that I started my career here, and I'd love to finish my career here.
"Also, I just love the direction that our team's going. We're a very young team, and we're only going to get better and mature. Our time to win a Stanley Cup is now. I feel like Columbus is one of the best options to win a Stanley Cup, and what better way than to be one of those guys who helps bring a Cup to Columbus?
"It's also about life here, as well. Not only the guys on the team, but the community and the cost of the dollar goes a long way here. Good school systems, great place to raise a family, so there's a lot of things that go into it."
Q: Do you have kids?
ATKINSON: "No. Trying. Hopefully we'll raise some kids here. That's the plan."
Q: You could've sought other situations with other teams to chase the Stanley Cup. Is the chase more special here, because you've been here, and been through some tougher times to get to this point?
ATKINSON: "Oh, for sure. That's part of it, too. I've been here for seven years already, and there's been a lot of ups and downs. There were a lot of downs in my first little bit of my career here, and the last little bit there's been a lot of ups. Like I said, I see the direction this team's going, and the grass isn't always greener on the other side. You never know who's going to win the Stanley Cup.
"You can't say that you're going to go to free agency or get traded to a team that's going to win the Cup. The odds of that are pretty crazy. I just like the direction of this team, with how young we are. We're only going to get better and mature, and I love it here. I love the coaching staff, the management, owners … it's a great fit for me."
Video: CBJ@MIN: Atkinson flips home rebound in front
Q: What was more important to you in this negotiation, term or dollars?
ATKINSON: "I definitely wanted the term. I'd say they go hand-in-hand, but for me, I think term, just because I knew they could sign me to eight years. I knew possibly that if I had another successful year, I could get a seven-year deal with another team, but I wanted to be here. So, I wanted to get as many years here as I could … just because you never know.
"I'm going to be 35 or 36 by the time [this] is done, and hopefully I'm going to still be playing. Hopefully I'm going to take care of my body, which I always do, but there are so many uncertainties that it was definitely term."
Q: Were you ever at a point where you just wanted to concentrate on the season and worry about this later?
ATKINSON: "I tried to. I definitely tried to, but that goes into play where, if my game starts slipping a little bit, then you start thinking about the possibilities of, like, 'Oh, man, am I going to get traded?' or, 'I'm not going to sign for this,' or, 'Where am I going to be next year?' There's so many uncertainties that I'm glad it got done. Now I can just play hockey, win games and get back to the level of play that everybody knows I'm capable of playing."
Q: Did the final negotiations all come about pretty quickly in the past couple days?
ATKINSON: The last two days it kind of heated up, after the Montreal game, when we flew home. They saw where my level of my play was going to, and it was only going to affect the team. As much as I wanted to block everything out, it's hard to. So, ultimately, they knew that I wanted to stay here, and they … I wouldn't say 'took a chance,' with this contract, but they know how I can play and what I bring to this team. I'm glad we put it to rest. Now the fun really begins."
Video: CBJ@TOR: Atkinson buries SHG on the rush for lead
Q: Sometimes, you'll see guys sign new deals and get nice raises, and it will affect them negatively at first. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to live up to the new contract. It sounds like you feel the opposite here, like the pressure's off now?
ATKINSON: "Oh, 100 percent. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And that's how I've been with every contract, in my contract year. If you look, I usually struggle in my contract year, a little bit. I don't know why. It's just one of those things. And then, as soon as I sign, it's just a weight's lifted off, and now you just go play hockey. It's a great relief knowing that I'm going to be here for seven years, and that's the best part about it."
Q: As for off the ice, it sounds like you've really become part of the community here. You feel that way?
ATKINSON: "I'm from Connecticut, but this has been a second home. I have residency in Ohio now. My license is from Ohio, and I'm an Ohio resident now. I changed it all, everything. There's so many things that go into it. The town is really an up-and-coming, booming city. It's a sports city, with Ohio State five minutes up the road. Good football, great restaurants, good night scene if you're into that."
Q: You're not really in the fish bowl, like in some other places either. You can walk down the street here, right?
ATKINSON: "Oh, for sure. You can walk down the street and people know who you are, and they're nice. They're always respectful, and that's very important. We're just regular human beings, so for them to treat you like a regular human being, that's what it's all about."