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Johansen, Blue Jackets agree on three-year contract

by Craig Merz / NHL.com

COLUMBUS -- Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen used the phrase "move forward" six times in 10 minutes Monday at a press conference to announce the signing of center Ryan Johansen to a three-year, $12 million contract after protracted negotiations caused the center to miss the Sept. 18 start of training camp.

It was Kekalainen's way of trying to dampen the embers of the sometimes fiery talks between the Blue Jackets and Johansen's agent, Kurt Overhardt.

"I talked to [Johansen] briefly already and basically told him, 'Get your butt over here and let's get to work,'" Kekalainen said. "I wish this all could have been avoided but it was something necessary for us to go through to get the deal done. Now it's done and let's move forward."

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The new contract ends a protracted negotiation that saw president of hockey operations John Davidson disclose publicly a number of lucrative offers made to Johansen that ranged in length from two to eight years, while the Columbus Dispatch reported that Johansen and his agent first were asking for a two-year contract at $6.8 million per season, which later was reduced to $4.7 million per season.

The contract finally agreed upon will pay Johansen $3 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16, and $6 million in 2016-17.

It also means Johansen has a chance to be in the lineup when the Blue Jackets open the season Oct. 9 at the Buffalo Sabres. Johansen told the Columbus Dispatch he was traveling from his home in Vancouver on Monday and hoped to be in Columbus by Tuesday afternoon, assuming there are no issues with his immigration issues.

"I feel good. I feel close [to game shape]," Johansen told the newspaper. "I haven't had any preseason games, so that's a challenge. My two linemates [forwards Boone Jenner and Nathan Horton] are hurt. That'll be one of the biggest things, being thrown in with two new guys."

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he wouldn't know whether Johansen would be ready to go Thursday until he got a look at him in practice.

"I don't know where he's at physically and that's the biggest question," Richards said. "I'm glad the contract is done and over with. I hope he can get out and practice with the group [Tuesday] but he still must go through physicals first.

"[Johansen] makes our team better and the fact this is no longer a distraction is good. Once [Johansen] gets here and is in the lineup and playing, it's just about playing hockey and not about the [contract] story anymore."

The fourth pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, Johansen had a breakout season in 2013-14, leading the Blue Jackets with 33 goals and 63 points while centering the top line. He also had six points in six Stanley Cup Playoff games.

However, Kekalainen said Johansen still must show that he's ready to be an elite player; entering 2013-14 Johansen had 14 goals and 33 points in 107 games in parts of two previous seasons.

"He can be one of the best players in the League but there's a lot of work than can be done before he gets there and he needs to do that every night," Kekalainen said. "That's what's always required of players that can claim to be some of the top players in the League, is that you bring it every night.

"We have a three-year contract now in place, and we're going to get to work with him and we'll push him to the next level."

Johansen told the Dispatch he's moved on from the contract issue and is focused on hockey.

"Whatever happened, happened," he said. "It's behind us now. It's already behind me. Nothing positive comes from holding a grudge. I've already talked to Jarmo and John Davidson. We're on the same page. It's all about the team and moving forward."

Johansen said being away from his teammates was the hardest part of the process for him.

"It was really tough," he said. "The most frustrating thing is knowing your teammates are grinding away and getting ready for the season. And the team we have, that group of guys, it was hard to not be a part of it. It was frustrating.

"But now it's a huge positive we were able to figure something out and I'll be there for Game 1."

Johansen's teammates are excited to know the big center is on his way back.

"It's exciting for all of us," defenseman Ryan Murray told the Blue Jackets website. "He's a huge part of our team and we're pumped that he's back with the boys."

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