The case of arguably the most prominent restricted free agent remaining unsigned this summer took another turn yesterday. Columbus Blue Jackets President John Davidson chose to voice his displeasure surrounding the contract situation between the team and restricted free agent center Ryan Johansen. Not only did Davidson himself voice his displeasure on a personal level, he decided to go one step further. In an attempt to save face with a fan base who has high expectations for this season, Davidson released the details of several proposed contracts that have been offered to the Johansen camp over the course of the summer.
Offers ranged from short term bridge contracts of two years to long term contracts that would pay Johansen handsomely into unrestricted free agency. Ryan Johansen made a shade under two million dollars last season after bonuses, the final year of his entry level contract. The issue, which hasn't changed all summer, comes down to dollars. To put it simply, the Johansen camp is asking for double what the Blue Jackets are willing to offer, and neither side is budging.
Opinions already vary in regards to the handling of this situation. Most seem to side with the Blue Jackets; they want Johansen around, and are more than happy to pay him like a top player in due time. Others may side with the Johansen camp on the rhetoric that "he's their best player" and that the team can't afford to lose him. Currently, the Jackets have the cap space to sign Johansen to just about any deal they please. In the meantime, Johansen is not welcome to join the team for training camp until he has a deal. He will, for now, continue to train in his native province of Vancouver.
So, now what? The Blue Jackets don't want to pay a player based off of one productive season. The team has been down this road before: paying a superstar a kings ransom, only to have him not produce like a superstar. However, Johansen is a six foot three, first line scoring center. If there is a player you take a chance and overpay, it's a Drew Doughty-esque defensemen, or a center like Johansen. But where is the line drawn? The Blue Jacket's would surely, at this point, offer a two year bridge deal worth eight or even nine million dollars if they thought Johansen would bite. The Johansen camp refuses to budge from their demand of six and a half million per season.
So, again....now what? The options are quite limited. Johansen will remain Blue Jackets property, and the team has already stated that he will sit if he starts the season without a deal. The player is not eligible to sign an offer sheet. The Jackets obviously want Johansen on the ice, but does Johansen want to be on the ice in Columbus? Neither side wants to budge. The Jackets refusing to sign Johansen to a deal worth roughly double what they feel he is currently worth makes sense; they are the ones that, really, hold all the power. The refusal from the Johansen camp to budge, even with sitting to start the season on the horizon, says one thing: Johansen would gladly welcome a trade out of Columbus.
This situation will likely resolve itself before camp. The Blue Jackets are fed up, and feel they have been more than fair to a player they want to build their team around. The list of thirty goal and sixty point players in the NHL is small. However, the list of one hit wonders who have had seasons like Johansen's is a long one. We are talking about a player who scored thirty three points in his first one hundred and seven NHL games, then sixty three in his next eighty two. The talent is undeniable, but consistency remains a question mark. Johansen likely has many more sixty point-plus seasons ahead of him, but the prospects of them happening with the Blue Jackets going forward seems to be diminishing by the day.
Team President John Davidson was even willing to go on record saying that moving the player has become a serious option. Now, this is just my opinion: but if Johansen and his agent have drug this situation out this far, they are seemingly all in. I don't see the player signing a two year deal worth anything less than eleven or twelve million before camp starts, or this entire situation will have been for nothing. I also think the Blue Jackets are way past the point of offering him such a deal. In my opinion, there are only two options moving forward: sign the player to a 1 year deal worth six million or more, or trade him.
First line centers simply don't grow on trees, especially ones the size of of Johansen. Paying Johansen a million dollars for every ten points he scored last year isn't something the Blue Jackets seem high on. On the other hand, if they cave on a one or even two year deal worth six million or more, they can at least fit it under the cap. The main issue is that this is a very good hockey club right now, and the future looks to be even brighter. However, Johansen is a key piece, if not the focal point of this team in both the short and long term. If you trade him, you essentially need a similar player in return.
If Johansen hit the market, twenty nine other teams would be interested. The Blue Jackets would likely want at least one, if not two NHL ready players in addition to some picks and/or prospects in a return. Again, they hold all the cards in this situation. They seem quite adamant on having Johansen sit whether they try to trade him or not. The entire league would be interested, but what team's can really offer a deal that makes sense for the Blue Jackets? For a player like Johansen, I tend to think all twenty nine teams can assemble at least a reasonable offer for the young pivot, but who can really win the Jackets over with an offer?
Whatever happens, this situation will likely be rapping itself up shortly with camps and the pre-season approaching. At present, Johansen returning this season as a Blue Jacket have to be less than fifty percent, a disheartening reality for a team that finally seems to be trending upward.
(Thank you for reading. I look forward to reading any and all comments and welcome any constructive criticism)