Johansen or Dubinsky: Worth to the Columbus Blue Jackets

This off-season has been an eventful one for both Columbus Blue Jackets centers Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky. Earlier this summer, Dubinsky signed a six-year contract extension with the Jackets, a full year before his current contract expires. He’s now pledged the next seven years of his career to the organization, which is no small matter for any player or team, and especially not with the Jackets.

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Jackets management has made some mistakes in earlier years, signing young, unproven players to long contracts and getting burned. Recently, though, GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his management team have seemed to turn things around in the organization. That in and of itself was enough to surprise me when they gave Dubinsky such a long contract, and is also the reason no one is surprised by the standstill that is the lack of a Johansen contract.

The two players couldn’t be further apart on the contract negotiation scale, but they are fairly close on other levels. Johansen led the team in points this past year with 63, and Dubinsky was third with 50 points. Both centers were fairly close on +/- as well, with Johansen at +3 and Dubinsky at +5. On the stat sheet, both are critical, leading players in the franchise. That would seem to mean they are worth about the same to the club, and worth a lot.

But that doesn’t explain the differences in the contract offers the players received. Dubinsky’s previous contract (that expires after this season) was worth $4,650,000 a year, and his extension gives him $5,850,000 through 2021. On the other hand, the Jackets only wanted to give Johansen a two-year bridge contract worth around $3,000,000 a year. Although his agent seems to have caved on the length, they still hold out that Johansen is worth more than $7,000,000 per year.

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Is he? Is he worth more than Dubinsky? He certainly had more points last season, played in more games (all 82 in fact, to Dubinsky’s 76), and had twice as many goals (33 to Dubinsky’s 16). Those stats would seem to say, sure, he’s a star player, he’s worth more.

But it isn’t that simple. Dubinsky is a proven player. Last season, he had 20 points in 29 games. Johansen only had 12 points in 40 games. Last season was close to a career-high for Dubinsky, his most points being 54 in 2010-11 with the New York Rangers. He has had five seasons with 40 points or more, whereas Johansen has had only one good season. A break-out year hardly qualifies a player to be worth more than a consistent 40-point contributor.

One more thing Dubinsky has over Johansen is experience. He’s played in the NHL since 2006, appearing in 37 NHL Playoff games over five seasons. Johansen has only been in the NHL since 2011, and since he was with the Jackets the whole time, has only seen Playoff ice six times. It just doesn’t add up.

All of this would seem to suggest Dubinsky is worth far more to the team than Johansen. Many have even entertained the idea that he was offered this long contract extension because the franchise has plans to name him Captain one day. So why does Johansen insist on a deal giving him $1,150,000 or more per year than Dubinsky is getting? He’s just not worth the risk. Maybe he’s worth the same as Dubinsky, around $5,000,000 a year or so. With training camp almost upon us, he’s going to have to sign a deal soon or risk not playing in the NHL this season. When he does sign, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets close to or less than Dubinsky.