What Should the Columbus Blue Jackets Do With Ryan Johansen?


At the end of the season, it seemed like a no-brainer. Leading the team in goals and points, Ryan Johansen was nothing short of a star. He was said to be the next big player, the centerman the Jackets have been looking for since 2000. Why wouldn’t they resign him? Surely they would?

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But what seemed like a no-brainer at the end of an emotional season might have been just that: emotional. This year was a breakout year for Johansen. In 2012-13, he only registered five goals and seven assists. Hardly a star center. This season, though, his scoring woes were forgotten. He lead the team in production, and showed he had a flare for the dramatic. He scored lots of last-minute, clutch goals that endeared him to the fans forever. Those moments, combined with his numbers, made him one of the most loved players in Columbus.

However, were we getting ahead of ourselves? Have we forgotten the problems signing after a breakout year can cause? It’s no secret around the sports world that players play better in the years their contracts are expiring. People say it isn’t so, and perhaps it isn’t even consciously, but they do. Who wouldn’t try their best when they know they need to prove themselves worthy of a new contract at year’s end? Almost every professional sports team out there has seen it happen.

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And the Columbus Blue Jackets are no exception. In fact, they should know better than most. Remember Steve Mason? He was called up to the Jackets to replace injured goalkeeper Pascal Leclaire in 2008. He went on to have an amazing season, being named rookie of the month many times over, and eventually won the Calder Trophy and was nominated for the Vezina. 2008-09 was another emotional season, perhaps the first and most emotional of them all. It was the franchise’s first-ever playoff appearance, and many said it was all because of Mason.

After all the playoff hype was over, it came time to sign then free agent Steve Mason. It also seemed like a no-brainer. He lead us into the playoffs right? And he got the deal he wanted. He got a five-year deal, and then went on to be a bust for the Jackets. Mason’s play was disappointing after 2008-09, to say the least, but after that awesome performance and playoff run, who would have doubted signing him?

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Now, I’m not saying Johansen is the next Mason. I hope he isn’t, because I think he could become one of the best players out there in time. But who knows for sure? The Jackets just rid themselves of a burdensome contract by trading R. J. Umberger to the Flyers, so there is no reason to get into another heavy contract. Johansen and his agent have been telling the Jackets that they don’t want a “bridge deal”, they want a longer term contract. Two years isn’t going to cut it for them. But should the Jackets take a contract that long?

Negotiations are currently stalled between Johansen and Blue Jackets management, mostly because of the inability to agree on contract length. Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen has shown that he doesn’t want to make the same mistakes his predecessor did. Would signing your young star to a long contract after making the playoffs be one of those mistakes? It very well could be. It is understandable why Jackets management is hesitant to enter into a long deal with Johansen.

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In my opinion, the best outcome we can hope for is that Johansen agrees to a shorter bridge deal. He is a restricted free agent, and that starts tomorrow. Tomorrow, teams can make offers to Johansen if they want him, but the Jackets have the chance to match those offers if they want to. I don’t think the Jackets should let Joey go yet, but a long-term contract isn’t preferable either. Hopefully the two sides can come to an agreement, and we’ll see Johansen in Columbus for the next few years at least.