A couple of hours after agreeing to terms with restricted free agent center Ryan Johansen, GM Jarmo Kekalainen said the team and player are ready to turn the page and get down to business. The contract impasse between the two parties had encompassed the entirety of training camp and the preseason, and today’s agreement was consummated because it had become “decision time,” Kekalainen said.
Johansen and the Blue Jackets agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract through 2016-17 that ensures the player will be a restricted free agent at the end of the deal.
“We’re very pleased to have this over with,” Kekalainen said. “I talked to Joey briefly and said ‘get your butt here and let’s go to work.’ It was necessary for us to get a deal done and move forward. He’s a big part of our team and has always been part of our plans.
“(Given) his performance last year…like everyone on our team, we expect him to get better. We’re happy to have him back and were ready to move forward.”
Johansen, 22, scored 33 goals to lead the Blue Jackets in that department in 2013-14 and was one of the breakout stars in the NHL. He is projected to be the team’s No. 1 center (as he was last year) but for the time being, the priority is to get Johansen to Columbus from Vancouver, where he’s spent the past few weeks training.
As of Monday afternoon, the plan was for Johansen to fly out of Vancouver as soon as possible with the intention of having him practice Wednesday morning prior to the team’s departure for Buffalo.
“It was time to make a decision and we made that very clear,” Kekalainen said. “Either he was going to join our team or we were going to move on, and we’re happy he’s joining us.
“Hopefully he gets a couple full practices with the team and he will be ready to go. It will take some time to get his timing back. I talked to him (today), just about hockey and the importance of him getting ready for the season.”
Kekalainen declined to go into specifics about the negotations, which could best be termed as difficult at times, saying he preferred to focus on the present and the road ahead for the Blue Jackets. He did say, however, that the agreed-upon contract was presented by the Blue Jackets and carried a high level of urgency, mainly because of the timing involved and the necessary measures needed to get Johansen into town.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, who said he had never been through something like this with one of his players, said he expected no issues in the dressing room as many players have gone through similar situations and understand the business of sport.
“There’s no reason to look in the rear-view mirror in my opinion,” Kekalainen said. “He’s got to get on the ice with the team, and obviously, there’s not a lot of time to prepare. We’ll do our best to make sure he’s 100 percent ready.
“We love the player. He’s only 22 years old. His potential is sky-high. He can be one of the best players in the league but there’s a lot of work to be done to get there. He’s young and we expect him to get to that level. We have a three-year contract in place and we get to work with him to get him there.”
There was little sense of excitement or relief from either Kekalainen or Richards (Richards admitted that he heard the news shortly after practice concluded), who made it clear that their focus remains on Game No. 1 in Buffalo.
Though the signing of Johansen changes some things - roster decisions, primarily - they are happy to have the matter resolved and to be heading into season with a big part of the team now under contract.
“You can never know what the other side is thinking,” Kekalainen said. “I’m always the optimistic guy that you want to play hockey and get back to playing. We had a great year last year, our team needs him…we wanted him here all along, and as I said in the beginning, I wished we could’ve avoided all of this. We’re just moving forward now.”