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Top 5 training camp contract battles (and how they ended)

As Ryan Johansen rejoins the Columbus Blue Jackets after a heated contract battle, see how other restricted free agents fared after missing camp to push for a better deal.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Ryan Johansen starts this season with a new contract and a new challenge: he’ll have to hit the ground running and justify his three-year, $12-million contract without the benefit of a full training camp.

Johansen used what leverage he had as a restricted free agent to battle the CBJs for more money, but he had to compromise if he was going to get back on the ice. He may have missed training camp, but now that he's signed, Johansen will have to get up to speed quickly and prove he's worth every dollar he asked for in negotiations.

RFAs like Johansen haven’t had a lot of negotiating power under the last two collective bargaining agreements. Their greatest leverage is their value to their team, and as we saw with Johansen, that leverage only goes so far.

A number of other notable RFAs have played hardball coming off their entry-level contracts, skipping training camp and even missing some regular season games in their push for a better deal.

There can be a lot of fallout from these tactics, as we've seen in the past. The heated negotiations can create bad blood and even force a trade, while in the short term, players often start slow after missing camp.

These five players made fireworks by negotiating right up to the start of the regular season. And in most cases, they justified the giant contracts they eventually earned.

All contract information comes from Note that all five players were coming off entry-level deals, but with wildly different total values. Those are bonuses built into their contracts, and don't count against the cap unless the bonus requirements are met.

Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche (2012-13 season)

Old contract: 3 years, $2.7 million ($880k cap hit)

New contract: 2 years, $10 million ($5 million cap hit)

How it ended:Ryan O’Reilly held out well past the beginning of the lockout-shortened season, and it was ultimately the Calgary Flames’ offer sheet that got him under contract.

The Colorado Avalanche matched the Flames’ offer, and a few days later, everyone learned that the Flames had narrowly avoided disaster. O’Reilly had played briefly in the Kontinental League after the lockout ended, so he would have been subject to waivers if the Avs failed to match the Flames' offer. The Avalanche would have received compensatory first- and third-round picks from Calgary for their RFA, and the Flames would have almost assuredly lost O’Reilly before their turn in the waiver order.

Needless to say, then-Flames general manager Jay Feaster is no longer employed.

How he performed: O’Reilly picked up right where he left off in 2011-2012. He scored six goals and 20 points in an already lockout-shortened season that saw him skate in just 29 games. His points-per-game was nearly identical to the season before, when he scored 18 goals and 55 points in 81 games.

He also didn’t show any rust after missing training camp and the start of the season. He didn’t score in his first two games, but put up four points in the following three games.

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens (2012-13 season)

Old contract: 3 years, $2.625 million ($875k cap hit)

New contract: 2 years, $5.75 million ($2.875 cap hit)

How it ended: New Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin played hardball with P.K. Subban, refusing to give him a big-money, long-term contract following his entry-level deal. Instead, Bergevin popularized the ‘bridge contract’ concept: a short-term, medium-dollar deal for a young player, with the promise of more money on the next deal if the player proves himself. Subban eventually relented and took his bridge deal.

How he performed: Bergevin wanted Subban to prove himself, so Subban won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman. Subban tied for the league lead in defenceman scoring with 11 goals and 38 points in 42 games, with 26 of those points coming on the powerplay. He also started the season with a four-game point streak, showing he was absolutely ready despite missing training camp.

His 38 points in 42 games matched his career-high in his rookie season, and beat his 36 points in 81 games the season before.

Subban’s bridge contract expired last summer, and after another hard-fought negotiation that was nearly resolved by an arbitrator, Subban got his money: $72 million over eight years.

Kyle Turris, Phoenix Coyotes/Ottawa Senators (2011-12 season)

Old contract: 3 years, $8.175 million ($845,833 cap hit)

New contract: 2 years, $2.8 million ($1.4 million cap hit)

How it ended: Kyle Turris did not want to play for the Phoenix Coyotes, and he used his contract negotiation to work his way out of town.

Turris missed training camp and more than a month of the regular season, pushing the Coyotes for as long as he could in the hopes they would trade his rights.

Turris ultimately signed on Nov. 22, less than two weeks before the Dec. 1 deadline when he would have become ineligible to play for the rest of the season.

How he performed: Turris was absolutely brutal coming off his long standoff with the Coyotes. He went pointless in his first (and last) six games with Phoenix before he was shipped to Ottawa for David Rundblad. Once with the Senators, Turris notched three assists in his first three games and later signed a five-year, $17.5-million contract to stay in Ottawa.

The former third overall pick from 2007 still hasn't blossomed into an impact center, but he's the best Ottawa has at that position right now.

Derek Stepan, New York Rangers (2013-14 season)

Old contract: 3 years, $2.625 million ($820,833 cap hit)

New contract: 2 years, $6.15 million ($3.075 million cap hit)

How it ended:Derek Stepan took his contract negotiations into training camp and didn’t get a deal done until Sept. 26, when camp was nearly over. Much like Subban and Turris, Stepan took a two-year bridge deal to get back in the game.

How he performed: Stepan started the season with five assists in his first five games and hit the wall after that, going pointless in the next five games. But Stepan soon got up to NHL speed, notching 17 goals and 57 points for the best offensive season of his career – though a little off the pace of his 44-point lockout season.

Despite the tough negotiations last year, everything's been rosy for Stepan ever since (his pre-season injury notwithstanding). Stepan and the Rangers made it to the Cup final last year, and he’s become the undisputed top-line center for the Blueshirts now that Brad Richards is gone.

Stepan will be an RFA again after this season, meaning the Rangers will have to do this whole dance again to get his name on a long-term deal.

With Stepan currently nursing a long-term leg injury, the Rangers might want to start talking terms with him again.

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (2011-12 season)

Old contract: 3 years, $10.425 million ($875k cap hit)

New contract: 8 years, $56 million ($7 million cap hit)

How it ended: Former 2008 second overall pick Drew Doughty wanted a big contract coming off his entry-level deal, and it’s hard to blame him. In his first three seasons in the league, Doughty scored 33 goals and racked up 126 points. He also won a gold medal with Team Canada in Vancouver.

So Doughty had a lot of evidence to call on when he asked the L.A. Kings to make him the highest-paid player on the team.

GM Dean Lombardi said publicly during negotiations that he wouldn’t go over $6.8 million per season, but he ultimately caved and gave Doughty $7 million per year to lock him up for eight years.

After Doughty signed his deal, then-Kings CEO Tim Leiweke said: “Let’s go win some Cups.”

How he performed: Doughty’s Kings won the Stanley Cup that year. ‘Nuff said.

Doughty missed Kings training camp and started a bit slow, with just two assists in his first eight games. But after that, he picked up his production and finished with 10 goals and 36 points through 77 games – four points shy of his totals in 2010-11.

Doughty then took his game to a new level in the playoffs, scoring four goals and 16 points in 20 games en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

Ultimately, the Kings met Doughty’s contract demands and both sides benefited.


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