Challenging contract talks between Johansen, Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The assembled media at the Blue Jackets annual Media Day luncheon was hit with both barrels Wednesday afternoon. President of hockey operations John Davidson, flanked by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and assistant general manager Bill Zito, revealed the offers made to restricted free agent Ryan Johansen and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, that were subsequently turned down.
"At certain times, when you get involved with negotiations, enough is enough", said Davidson. "We’ve offered him $3 million per year for the two years (bridge contract). They want double that.
"We then went to longer-term contracts. We offered him $32 million over a six-year term. They came back with numbers much higher than that. By the way, that number is higher than Jamie Benn, the captain of the Dallas Stars. We’ve offered him an eight-year deal worth $46 million. They didn’t like that, either."
Davidson continued, "So, when you start talking about contracts that 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. When it gets to that point, you start going ‘You know, enough’s enough here.’ We’re trying to do the right thing for our organization. We’re trying to be fair to a good young man in Ryan Johansen, who has a bright future here."
This stalemate between center Ryan Johansen and the club has taken a nasty turn. Although there is no talking of trading him, how much nastier would it have to get to reach that point? Needless to say, the situation looks as if it might get much worse before it gets better.
With training camp opening Thursday, the Blue Jackets are preparing to start without their number one center. But, move forward they will. John Davidson used the phrase "as a group" three times in the first minute of the press conference. He made the point very clear that there is no individual bigger than the team.
When asked if the team is prepared to move forward without Johansen, Davidson responded, "Absolutely we are. We have a lot of good, young players in our organization. We’ve got a lot of good, young players here that played for us last year. We’ve got a collection of veteran players that are excited to get going.
"We’re a team. We’re not run by one player, even though he’s a tremendous player. We have to get ourselves in a position where if he’s not here, he’s not here. He’s just not here, period. We would love to have him here.
"If there’s a deal to be done, it will get done. If it’s not done, we’re moving forward, period."
GM Jarmo Kekalainen added, "They’re treating this as if he’s an unrestricted free agent. ‘Give us what we want or we’re going to move on.’ Unrestricted free agents have that right. At the end of the year, they can go to 29 other teams if there’s interest from them. And that’s a totally different situation."
With the depth that the organization has, there are players that will make a push to be on the roster should Johansen not sign a contract by Oct. 9. Alex Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand, by all accounts, had a good showing at the recently completed prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
While the situation could change within a day, head coach Todd Richards is preparing for the absence of Johansen as if it were a routine substitution.
"The way I approach it," said Richards, "is just like during the season if somebody was injured. You take that guy out of the lineup and you put somebody in. Somebody is going to get some great opportunities."
While there are many storylines to be told as the new season begins to unfold, the rancorous negotiations between the Blue Jackets and Ryan Johansen (and his agent) are front and center. The focus for the players Thursday needs to harken back to the days of the "Three Musketeers." For the guys in the Columbus dressing room, it has to be all for one and one for all.
"You don’t want the one guy to carry your team," said Davidson. "You want the group to be a part of it. That’s what the Blue Jackets are about. But, we have a team. We’re not one player."