We're 22 days away from opening night of the NHL season and Columbus' Ryan Johansen is still without a contract. The 22-year-old, who was picked fourth overall in the 2010 draft, is coming off a terrific 33-goal season. The problem is, he's only once posted those kinds of numbers in the NHL. In the 107 big league games he played from 2011-13, Johansen scored 14 times. So it's tricky to define what his next contract should be worth. Should he get more than Jamie Benn's $5.25 million, a deal the Dallas Star signed after a 26-goal season in 2011-12? Should he get more than Jeff Skinner's $5.725 million, which kicked in three years after his phenomenal rookie season? Should he get more than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' $6 million, a first overall pick who has been scoring at a fairly consistent rate across his three years in the league? Each of those deals are long-term contracts running five years or more. If the Blue Jackets sign Johansen, it seems it'll be on a short-term deal - but the Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline reports team and player are around $3 million apart even on a two-year extension. The Blue Jackets are coming in around $3.5 million on a bridge contract,
similar to the one Matt Duchene signed with the Avalanche in 2012. Portzline reports Johansen's agent, Kurt Overhardt, is seeking around $6.5 million. In other words: no break for a bridge deal.
With training camps right around the corner, the two sides are cutting it close. If Johansen doesn't have a contract in place by Thursday, he'll be asked to clean out his locker before players report. And if this negotiation gets to that point, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen had some heavy words about what the ramifications could be.
"Maybe it’s because I’m European, I don’t know, but I want everybody there to start getting together and working together, and I want it to be about the team," Kekalainen told The Dispatch last night during the NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
"That’s how we were successful last year and the year before – it was about the team, not about one guy.
"Our success is going to come from being a team, not a bunch of individuals or stars, or whatever. We’re not a star-studded team. To me it’s huge that you go through training camp together and get ready."
NHL training camps open on Thursday, when players undergo physicals and testing. The Blue Jackets have team dinner planned that evening in Nationwide Arena. The on-ice activities begin Friday, with the first exhibition games set for Sunday.
"When training camp starts, that’s it," Kekalainen said. "After that, it’s guys who are there on tryouts or guys who are under contract. That’s it. That will be the only focus." Would the Blue Jackets really cut off talks with Johansen and move on with their season as Kekalainen insinuates? That's hard to believe. Johansen was the team's leading scorer by a whopping 11 goals and 12 points last season, so as much as the Blue Jackets trumpet being a "team" it'll get harder to be a good one if they lose that offense and potential. Kekalainen then went a step further and questioned the motives of Johansen's agent.
"From their side, hopefully, this should be about Ryan Johansen and his future, his long-term future, and his long-term future with the Blue Jackets," Kekalainen said. "We like the guy a lot. He is a big part of our future.
"But this shouldn't be about a setting a new standard (for a player coming out of his entry-level contract), or an agent breaking records." Juicy. Of course, this process also shouldn't be about a player sacrificing pay to neatly fit into a team's cap structure. Johansen's side simply has leverage and is using it to score an optimum pay day for him. Will the two sides be able to find some common ground and split the difference, say, a two-year deal worth $9-10 million? Either way, this negotiation is entering an interesting mud-slinging period and will ramp up if nothing is signed by Thursday of this week. But as much as Johansen's side is playing the game to score a big and fair pay day, Kekalainen is doing the same in waiting - and perhaps threatening - for the asking price to come down.
What do you think Johansen's contract should be?
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