The Columbus Blue Jackets have been a different team over the past two seasons. Since the difficult choice to trade away the only star the organization has ever known in Rick Nash, Columbus has been marching toward relevance in the NHL. One of the players helping to drive that march is center Brandon Dubinsky, part of the blockbuster deal that sent Nash to the New York Rangers.
On Friday, the Blue Jackets announced that they have signed Dubinsky to a six-year extension. According to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, the deal comes with an annual average of $5.85 million and no-movement and no-trade clauses. Dubinsky was set to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, during which he will finish out his four-year deal that comes with a $4.2 million cap hit.
The new $35.1 million contract is a rather large commitment to Dubinsky, but is indicative of just how important Blue Jackets management feels the veteran center is to the organization.
Dubinsky posted 50 points last season, just four shy of his career best. He was also one of the Blue Jackets' top performers in the postseason. He had six points in six games against the Penguins in the opening-round series and was tasked with keeping Sidney Crosby in check, a role Dubinsky performed rather admirably.
With agitation as a core part of his game, Dubinsky is one of those prototypical "tough to play against" players because he also adds solid offensive production. On the defensive side, he was credited with 234 hits last season and won nearly 53 percent of his 521 draws (most of which came in the defensive zone). He was also a positive possession player throughout the season despite tough assignments and also needing to play in more defensive situations.
Dubinsky is 28 years old and very well could be surging into the best years of his career. As the salary cap continues to rise, salaries should too and this new deal is certainly an indication of that. Dubinsky is going to make more money than quite a few players that likely make a bigger overall impact than he does, but he would have commanded a pretty sizable return had he hit unrestricted free agency next summer at 29 years old.
By signing Dubinsky, Columbus has some long-term stability in one of the key players of its core group going forward. There's still a ton of vital work to be done this summer for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, however.
The club has two rather gigantic contract negotiations ongoing presently. The first and most pressing is that of re-signing restricted free agent and probable franchise cornerstone forward Ryan Johansen. The 21-year-old forward came into his own last year, exploding for 33 goals and 63 points after his first two NHL seasons were relatively disappointing.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported that the two sides were "galaxies apart" in negotiations, which isn't a good sign. There's still a long way to go this summer, but the Blue Jackets have to try to avoid overpaying for a player who is both important to their future but also has just one good season on which to base negotiations.
Columbus is smart to tread lightly and probably would hope to work some kind of short-term bridge deal with Johansen, who still has four years before he can hit unrestricted free agency. Anything to create the incentive to recreate the season he just had before making the long-term commitment to the talented youngster is the wise route. But it may not be that simple as the two clubs enter into tough negotiations.
Kekalainen has been on record as saying the Blue Jackets will match any offer sheet should Johansen get signed to one by another team.
With long-term money committed to Nathan Horton, Scott Hartnell, Fedor Tyutin, Jack Johnson and now Dubinsky, the Blue Jackets also have to be mindful of the other big negotiation underway when dealing with Johansen.
In addition to trying to lock up their young scorer, the club has star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on an expiring contract. According to Portzline, negotiations have already begun to lock up the former Vezina Trophy winner.
I guess we'll soon find out just how committed Columbus is to building a contending team with the amount of money it is going to have to spend this summer. The long-term, big-money deal to Dubinsky is a pretty good indication that the Blue Jackets are prepared to inch much closer to the salary cap going forward.
The Bobrovsky deal will likely approach $7 million annually after his most recent two-year, $11.25 million contract wraps up at the end of 2014-15. He will be a restricted free agent, so Bobrovsky doesn't have the leverage Dubinsky had, but he does have that Vezina Trophy to bring to the negotiating table. That should help.
Additionally, the market for goaltenders favors Bobrovsky. He could be looking at a contract similar to that of Boston Bruins Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask, who just played the first season of an eight-year deal worth $56 million.
The coming weeks and months are vital to the long-term success of this franchise, but with how Kekalainen and team president John Davidson have handled themselves over the past year-plus, there's reason to believe they are skilled enough to continue a rather effective construction of a competitive hockey club.
These definitely aren't the Blue Jackets of old, which should be a breath of fresh air for a fan base that has just two postseason victories (both from this summer) to cheer about. Nash's departure was a painful turning of the page, but it has proven to be a fruitful one. Once Kekalainen gets the rest of that core locked up, there will be a sigh of relief and a chance to start looking forward to a much brighter future for the Columbus organization.