GMs and former GMs around the league are fully supportive of the offers the Blue Jackets have made to restricted free agent Ryan Johansen and they all can sympathize with the frustration the team is feeling trying to get him signed.
If Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen can take solace in one thing, it’s that their peers definitely feel their pain. Other hockey executives aren’t so sure about the Blue Jackets taking their beefs with
Ryan Johansen and his agent Kurt Overhardt so public, but they do understand the frustration Davidson and Kekalainen are experiencing. In an effort to determine whether the Blue Jackets are handling this standoff with Johansen in the right way, thn.com canvassed 10 current and former GMs for their views on the subject. As has been well documented, Johansen is a restricted free agent with the Blue Jackets and is currently embroiled in a contract dispute that has gotten quite ugly. It’s so poisoned that Davidson recently blamed Overhardt for his handling of the situation, which was followed by the Blue Jackets making public each of the offers they’ve presented to Johansen, all of which have been turned down.
After making their offers public, the Blue Jackets reportedly refused to meet with Overhardt on the first day of camp, which prompted both the agent and the player to leave Columbus. Speaking with the group of current and former GMs, a couple of themes emerged: • They were unanimously on board with the Blue Jackets offers to Johansen and all agreed they were more than fair. For the record, the Blue Jackets have offered deals of $6 million for two years, $32 million for six years and $46 million for eight years. • While the majority felt the Jackets tactic of going public runs counter to their style, they could certainly understand Davidson’s and Kekalainen’s frustrations. • None of them would trade Johansen. While most of them said the public flogging of Overhardt, in particular, is counterintuitive to their negotiation style, they acknowledged their might be some behind-the-scenes dynamics of which only they know. And they all sympathized with the Blue Jackets. All GMs spoke to thn.com on the condition of anonymity. “You get to the point where you say, ‘Enough is enough’ “ on GM said. “I don’t think I’d come out and tell the world what I offered the guy, but I think that stems from their frustration with all of this. I think their frustration is with the agent, not the player. They really like the player and they know that eventually they’ll get something done.” But others were not as optimistic about the relationship going forward as others. One GM said he thinks there is definitely damage that has been done to the relationship between Johansen and the Blue Jackets and it might not manifest itself now, but Johansen might use this as an excuse to leave the organization when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. “Sometimes you win the battle and lose the war,” another GM said. “My policy is pretty simple. I never speak publicly about contract negotiations ever. Never have, never will. To me, people need to know the final result, that’s all. And when you put it out there the way they have, it has the potential to cause a lot of damage and puts the player in a very difficult spot. I just don’t see the upside in doing that.” Another GM said it runs counter to his style as well, but he can certainly see how the Blue Jackets might let their emotions get away from them. “I’d like to think I wouldn’t go public like that, but I also know how frustrating this can be,” he said. “You try to bite your tongue, but this process can be so frustrating that sometimes it gets the better of you. One of the factors here is that in Columbus, they’ve had a lot of bad hockey for a long time and here JD (Davidson) is under pressure to keep this thing going and the star player sits out. They’ve made offers that are more than fair and all they’re getting is a brick wall. I can understand his frustration.” “I really wouldn’t have made those offers public,” another GM said, “because now you’ve set a precedent. If you made this offer public, now you have to make all your offers public.” One GM went as far as to blame the NHL’s system for dealing with young players as the problem. “I don’t like the CBA when it comes to this,” he said. “It’s set up to give too much money to players too early. It’s not good for the player and it’s not good for the team. It’s not good for anybody.” As far as trading Johansen, all said it is far too early in the process to even think about doing that. “What would that accomplish?” one GM said. “His demands aren’t going to change. And there’s still a good chance something gets done at some point and everybody’s a big, happy family again.” Stay tuned Monday when, assuming the situation hasn’t changed, we talk to agents and get their feelings about how Overhardt has handled the situation.