With the final season of his current deal looming, Brandon Dubinsky didn’t want negotiations for a contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets to drag into the upcoming NHL season, when it might cloud his thoughts and hamper his hockey.
Potential problem solved – the center from Anchorage on Friday signed a six-year, $35.1 million extension with the Blue Jackets.
"One of the better days I’ve had in my 28-plus years," Dubinsky said when reached by phone in Columbus, Ohio.
Dubinsky’s new deal begins in 2015, stretches until 2021 and features an average annual salary of $5.85 million, according to capgeek.com. It's the second biggest NHL contract signed by an Alaskan and the largest current deal.
Veteran center Scott Gomez of Anchorage, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, in 2007 signed a seven-year, $51.5 million contract with the New York Rangers. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Carle of Anchorage is heading into the third year of his six-year, $33 million deal.
Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer of Juneau is heading into the final year of the biggest professional athletic contract signed by an Alaskan. He signed a five-year, $75 million deal in 2010, a deal that followed his six-year, $70 million contract with the Utah Jazz. Another huge deal for an Alaskan was the four-year, $52.5 million contract defensive lineman Travis Hall of Kenai signed with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 1999.
Dubinsky, who played five full seasons with the New York Rangers before a 2012 trade sent him to Columbus, in the upcoming season will play the final campaign of his current four-year, $16.8 million deal. He’ll make $4.65 million in the coming season.
With his new contract in hand, Dubinsky said he can focus on helping the Blue Jackets, considered one of the emerging teams in the NHL, by playing to his usual strengths as a two-way center who combines decent scoring punch with responsible defense and in-your-face demeanor.
“Sometimes, you sit there as a player in a contract year and I think it’s natural, whether or not you’re trying not to think about it, to distract you," Dubinsky said. “You put a lot of pressure on yourself to score points, or do this or that.
“To have it done sort of gives you some relief. You certainly don’t take your foot off the pedal, though, and be a fat cat and be happy with your contract. You keep working.’’
Dubinsky in 76 regular-season games for Columbus last season produced 16 goals, a career-high 34 assists and 50 points. He earned 1-5 — 6 totals in six playoff games. Dubinsky twice scored 20 or more goals with the Rangers. He has played nearly 300 regular-season games in the NHL.
His playoff performance last spring against the Pittsburgh Penguins – he largely shut down and clearly frustrated Sidney Crosby, who is generally considered the game’s best player – merited Dubinsky high praise. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a news conference Friday said Dubinsky was “night after night, one of the best players on the ice’’ in that playoff series.
Dubinsky was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, when he could have signed with any NHL team. He said he enjoys Columbus, appreciates the Blue Jackets’ energized fan base and thinks his club is on the rise, so he wanted to remain in Ohio.
“As we started winning and creating a buzz, you could feel how great the fan base is here,’’ Dubinsky said. “I think we’re lined up to become a perennial winner. We’re on the right track.’’
In 2012, when a lockout put the NHL on ice for nearly half a season until a new collective bargaining agreement was forged, Dubinsky spent that time playing for his hometown Alaska Aces of the ECHL, along with Gomez and NHLers Nate Thompson and Joey Crabb. All those players returned to the NHL when a labor agreement was struck.
Dubinsky last season was one of six Alaskans who skated in the NHL. The others were Carle; Gomez, who played with the Florida Panthers and is currently an unrestricted free agent; Thompson of Anchorage, the center who earlier this month was traded to the Anaheim Ducks from Tampa Bay; winger Crabb of Anchorage, who played for Florida; and winger Justin Johnson of Anchorage, who made his NHL debut with the New York Islanders.