Should He Stay Or Should He Go: Jan Hejda

For four years, Jan Hejda has sacrificed his body for the Blue Jackets. But is it the right fit to bring him back to Columbus? (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Name: Jan Hejda

Position: Defense
Status: UFA
2010-2011 Salary / Cap Hit: $2.0 Million / $2.0 Million
Last 3 Years Stats:

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

77

5

15

20

-6

38

62

3

10

13

-14

36

82

3

18

21

+23

38

 

After being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres and bouncing around with the Edmonton Oilers, Jan Hejda finally "stuck" in the NHL with the Blue Jackets after being acquired in a deal by Scott Howson. After setting a franchise record for the best +/- in a season in 2007-2008 (his first full NHL campaign), he signed a three year deal and went out and re-wrote the record book in 2008-2009 on the way to the team's first playoff appearance before suffering frustrating setbacks due to injury and the changing styles of play, though he seemed to finally be adjusting and fitting in a bit more reliably in the latter half of the season.

Now, on the verge of unrestricted free agency for the first time, Hejda has said he's looking for a longer term deal. He likes Columbus, and Scott Howson clearly likes the Czech defender - but is there a good fit?

What's He Worth?

As a "defensive defenseman", Hejda is in a category that doesn't regularly bring home what you'd consider "big bucks", even at the NHL level unless they can contribute regularly offensively, something which Hejda generally does not bring to the table. His current salary of $2 million is actually fairly reasonable if he can return to being a stronger "shutdown" player, keeping opponents off the scoreboard, but there are a lot of question marks about how he'll fit into Scott Arniel's system should he return. There's also the question of his injury history - in the past three years, Hejda has suffered two knee injuries, foot injuries, a groin tear, broken hand, and required surgery to fix torn ligaments near his fingers.  Some of these are simply the consequence of being a fearless shot blocker and physical player, but they also bring up questions about his long term durability - it's worth bringing up that after his first season in Columbus, Hejda has missed time for injury each season of his new deal, and even saw his run in the Jackets' lone playoff appearance end early due to an injury in game 3.

If he returns, it seems like he would be slotted into the middle pairing at this point, providing (we hope) steady defensive play and shot blocking while a more mobile partner (possibly David Savard? The two showed some pre-season chemistry) picks up the offensive duties and works as part of the rush. 

When considering the pay range, most players in his age range and skillset tend to go from around $1.5 million (Kent Huskins) to $3.5 (Sami Salo, though he also has a bit more offensive "pop"), but there's one guy who ruins the grade curve - Eric Brewer, who somehow managed to get paid $4.5 million a year (!) while contributing, on average, less offense and worse defensive play. 

What Should The CBJ Offer?

The "X factor" here may not be money so much as it is term. Hejda has mentioned that he suspects this will be his last NHL contract, and would like to get a deal that would run him another three to four years before potentially returning to Europe to finish his playing career back in his native Czech Republic. If that's the case, and he was willing to recognize the reduced performance in the last two seasons doesn't command a huge raise, it might be a good starting point for Scott Howson to offer him, for example, a deal that doesn't provide much of an increase in salary, but does give a promise of stability for the next several years, and the ability to finish his career here while providing mentoring to the Jackets' younger defensive players. I could even see Howson opening talks with a 2 year deal worth 2.25-2.5 million, and then offering to add a year to the contract in exchange for bringing the money down to the $2-2.2 million range.

Hejda has never been the world's most mobile d-man, but there is the hope that with some more time in the Arniel system, now that he's finished really learning it, that he could be come a solid defender again who can be relied on to help slam the door during critical points of the game. He's always been a trusted penalty killer, and throughout his career he's stated that he loves both the City of Columbus and the Blue Jackets organization, and wants to win here. Especially if Scott Howson bolsters the D corps with some players who could take some of the top pairing load off of Hejda's shoulders, we could do worse than reward the loyalty of a player who has shown such loyalty to us.

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