Ryan Johansen missed most of training camp in a loud and public contract impasse.
He also missed his teammates.
The team’s 22-year-old leading scorer finally reached agreement with the club on a three-year deal that will pay him $3 million each of the first two years and $6 million in the third year. The cap hit will be $4 million per season, according to figures supplied by the office of Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.
"I’m really excited to have this deal done," Johansen said in a statement released by the club. "I can’t wait to rejoin my teammates, coaches and our fans in Columbus and help this team build on what we’ve started the past two seasons."
Coach Todd Richards was happy to have Johansen returning and also to not have the strained negotiations grabbing his or his players’ attention.
"(The signing is) nice on a couple of fronts," Richards said. "We’re getting a good player back and with everyone else it’s not a story or a distraction that’s lingering in the background."
Johansen had totaled just 14 goals and 19 assists in his first 107 NHL games before exploding for 33 goals and 30 assists in 82 games last season while leading the club to its best regular-season record ever and a berth in the playoffs.
But he was a restricted free agent and the negotiations between him and the Blue Jackets soon got ugly.
"Obviously I’m very pleased to get this over with," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said of the contentious talks. "I talked to Joey briefly already and just basically told him, `Get your butt over here and let’s get to work.’"
The club offered him a two-year bridge contract worth $3 million a year but Overhardt countered with a request for $13 million over the same period, the team said.
John Davidson, the team’s director of hockey operations, was clearly agitated when he spoke at the Blue Jackets media day three weeks ago. He repeatedly said he had negotiated in good faith — also offering Johansen $32 million for six years and $46 million over eight — but had referred to Johansen’s demands as "extortion."
Pending travel and visa arrangements, Johansen, who was in his native Vancouver area when the deal was announced, was expected to be available for the Blue Jackets’ season opener on Thursday night in Buffalo. The club opens at home on Saturday night against the New York Rangers.
The Blue Jackets expected him to be at practice on Wednesday at the latest.
"We’re not going to be in a rush to get him into the lineup if he’s not ready for it but we’ll have to see," Richards said. "There’s always going to be that shot of adrenalin, that excitement to play. He’ll have that but it’s how well conditioned he is when he settles down."
He had missed more than two weeks of the team’s training camp. Final cuts are expected later today.
"I wish this all could have been avoided," Kekalainen said. "But it was something that was necessary for us to go through to get the deal done. Now that it’s done, we move forward."
The Blue Jackets were in dire need of some top-line production after losing forwards Boone Jenner (broken hand, out 5 weeks) and Nathan Horton (bad back, out indefinitely) in recent weeks.
The new contract, as expected, has some huge advantages to both sides. The club preferred a longer term and got Johansen for a reasonable $6 million over the next two years. On the other hand, Johansen’s jump to $6 million in the third year would lay the groundwork for a much bigger pay upgrade thereafter if he continues his progress.
After the deal is done, Johansen will have one year left as a restricted free agent.
The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft was paid in the $800,000-$900,000 range each of the past three seasons under an entry-level contract. After his breakthrough season, he was featured on the cover of the team’s postseason media guide, his stick raised in celebration and a big smile on his face.
The club had expressed reservations about his commitment at times earlier in his career but he was clearly a leader as the club went 43-32-7 (93 points) a year ago despite a 5-10-0 start. The Blue Jackets won their first two playoff games ever before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the first round.