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Ryan Johansen a prickly problem for Blue Jackets...but he's not alone

Both Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets seem entrenched in their positions the day before training camp begins. Johansen is looking for a deal that doesn't exist, but he's also 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and is coming off a 30-goal season. That counts for something, doesn't it?

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The biggest question when it comes to

Ryan Johansen’s stalemate with the Columbus Blue Jackets is just because the contract Johansen wants doesn’t exist, are he and his agent wrong for seeking it? In reality, if the numbers being reported are correct, Johansen is seeking a groundbreaking contract. A two-year bridge deal at $6.5 million a year is about $3 million a year more than the Blue Jackets are willing to pay at this point. At the Traverse City prospects tournament, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen turned the heat up significantly on Johansen and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, by essentially saying that if Johansen doesn’t sign with the team before it opens training camp Thursday, the organization will concentrate on the players it has in camp. “That’s it, that will be the only focus,”

Kekalainen told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch Monday. This, of course, is a pressure tactic. The Blue Jackets have as much to lose as Johansen if he stays out of training camp and this drags into the regular season, so they’ll continue to work at this until something gets done. But the waters are getting more poisoned with every passing day and Kekalainen set his sights directly on Overhardt by suggesting these negotiations are more about the agent than the player. “From their side…this should be about Ryan Johansen and his future, his long-term future with the Blue Jackets,” Kekalainen said. “This shouldn’t be about setting a standard or about an agent breaking records.”

For his part, Overhardt took the high road, saying he remains focused on getting a deal done and that contrary to popular belief, the two sides have been in almost constant communication, discussing deals varying in both dollars and terms. “I don’t think it’s necessary to comment on that,” Overhardt said. “My philosophy is you keep working and negotiating in good faith and you don’t react to that kind of thing. You just put your head down and keep working.” The Blue Jackets have gone to great lengths to point out that the biggest two-year deal for a player coming off and entry-level contract without arbitration rights who had not signed an offer sheet was

Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche, who signed a deal that averaged $3.5 million. But it should be noted that Duchene was coming off an injury-riddled season in which he put up the worst numbers of his career. Johansen, by contrast, led his team in goals (with 33) and points (with 63) by wide margins and was a point-per-game player in the Blue Jackets first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. And the way Johansen's camp sees it, why shouldn't a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder with 30 goals not be worth $6.5 million? If he were a couple of years older and had more options, teams would not hesitate to give him that kind of money. Both sides have what they believe are solid points to back up their arguments. The Blue Jackets know full well that Johansen has no leverage whatsoever aside from withholding his services. The Blue Jackets will not have him in training camp and Johansen would not even think of attending without a contract. Young players who sit out for long periods at that point in their development often take a step backward. And they have every right to expect to see more of what they saw last season before they commit that kind of money to him. And the Blue Jackets, while they have the most high-profile player out there, are not the only ones in that position. The St. Louis Blues open camp Friday and are still trying to get a deal done with

Jaden Schwartz, a 25-goal scorer who basically has no leverage other than sitting out. He can’t go to arbitration and is ineligible to be signed to an offer sheet. Making matters more difficult for him, the Blues have a fair amount of depth at forward with the summer signings of

Joakim Lindstrom and

Peter Mueller, along with

Dmitrij Jaskin and

Ty Rattie, who look ready to compete for full-time NHL employment. “I’m not saying any of those guys are Jaden Schwartz, but they’re going to get a chance,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong. “We hope Jaden is there for camp, but as they say in Britain, ‘The King is dead. Long live the King.’ Somebody is going to play if he doesn’t and I’ve never seen a 21- or 22-year-old kid retire from hockey.” These players looking for bridge deals are really the last frontier for the NHL to conquer. They have entry-level contracts under control and they’re not averse to paying players who have proved their worth after a bridge deal (see

Subban, P.K.). The long-term deals for players coming out of entry-level deals have basically been restricted to the special players. The Blues made that call themselves when they gave defenseman

Alex Pietrangelo a seven-year deal worth $45.5 million on his second contract. As one GM put it, “Too many players who haven’t accomplished much yet are looking for big jumps.”



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