COLUMBUS, Ohio – Talks between the Columbus Blue Jackets and leading scorer Ryan Johansen are clearly at a contentious impasse.
Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, said the young star left Columbus on Wednesday afternoon—a day before the start of training camp.
“(Our) talks (were) indicating that they weren’t going to allow the player be present at the facility,” Overhardt told The Associated Press. “We just thought it was a good opportunity that he leave town and not be a distraction to his teammates.”
John Davidson, the team’s director of hockey operations, and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen separately said “enough is enough” after what they contended were offers of $6 million for two years, $32 million for six and $46 million over eight years were refused by the restricted free agent centre.
Overhardt declined to confirm those numbers, saying he never discloses contract details.
But the Blue Jackets front office, clearly angry, didn’t hold back.
“Contracts have been extended on our behalf that are close to $50 million. I think that our group has been very fair. In fact, more than fair. And it’s nowhere near what they want,” Davidson said, his voice rising. “We’re trying to do the right thing for our organization. We’re trying to be very fair to a good young man in Ryan Johansen who’s got a bright future here. We’re trying to do the right thing. And all we’re getting is no, no, no, no.”
The Blue Jackets have the option to match any offer presented by another NHL team since Johansen became a restricted free agent July 1. He hasn’t received any so far.
It is uncertain what the next step might be for the 22-year-old centre, who had a breakthrough season with 33 goals and 30 assists last year.
“It has not gotten contentious on our side at all,” Overhardt said. “We’re professionals. There’s been no personal attacks or innuendo on our side and there won’t be. It’s unfortunate that people approach this differently.”
Now the club is proceeding as if Johansen will not be available for the first preseason game Sunday—and possibly beyond.
“For the first 10 minutes of this, it was all about Ryan Johansen,” coach Todd Richards said of the team’s media day. “That’s not the story. That’s a story. THE story is this group and this organization, the talented players and the young players and what the team accomplished last year.”
Still, Johansen’s absence—Davidson said he thought the player was still in Columbus when he had already left—was the main topic of discussion.
“We were talking about (a contract) just under John Tavares, who is largely viewed as a franchise player and (a member of) Team Canada,” Kekalainen said. “And Jamie Benn, the captain of the Dallas Stars, also a Team Canada player. I often try not to get into comparisons to other players, but because of the way contract negotiations go, you have to.”
Johansen was paid in the $800,000-$900,000 range each of the past three seasons under his entry-level contract. He was featured on the cover of the team’s post-season media guide, his stick raised in celebration and a big smile on his face.
Johansen was at times an enigma in his first two years with the Blue Jackets organization, scoring just 14 goals in his first 107 games. But last season with a breakthrough for him and the team.
The Blue Jackets took the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games—posting their first two playoff wins in franchise history—before they were eliminated in the first round last spring.
Should Johansen not return, the club believes it is well stocked with young talent in forwards Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Marko Dano, Simon Hjalmarsson and Alexander Wennberg.
“The question this year is who’s going to be that young guy, who are going to be the two or three young guys, who are going to step up and have great years for us,” Richards said.
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