Ryan Johansen and the Blue Jackets appear to be $6 million apart on a two-year deal.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Considering the young franchise is coming off the first playoff appearance in team history, the Columbus Blue Jackets should be eager to get the 2014-15 season underway.
However, when NHL training camps open Thursday, the Blue Jackets could be without a key component of their memorable 2013-14 campaign as centerman Ryan Johansen remains unsigned.
Johansen, a restricted free agent, is taking a hard-line stance to negotiating his next contract, and part of his strategy could include holding out from training camp.
The way Johansen's agent Kurt Overhardt sees it, holding out from camp is the only way his client can gain leverage on Columbus. The league's collective bargaining agreement offers Johansen no arbitration rights at this stage of his career. He could leave the Blue Jackets if another team signed him to an offer sheet and Columbus declined to match it, but no such offer sheet has materialized and it's unlikely one will appear this late in the offseason. Even if it did, the Blue Jackets wouldn't hesitate to match the offer, so, holdout or not, it doesn't appear Johansen is going anywhere.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the two sides are still far apart in negotiations with the team offering a two-year, $7 million deal and the Johansen camp asking for $13 million over two seasons. If the sides can't agree by Thursday, Overhardt believes that will be when Columbus starts to sweat.
"If he's not in camp, the pressure slips to the other side," Johansen's agent told the Dispatch.
Even though the Blue Jackets hold all the cards due to Johansen's RFA status, Overhardt is hoping Columbus will blink rather than risk not having their leading scorer for the start of the season. Having finally made the playoffs, the Blue Jackets should be entering this season with more momentum than they ever have, but the Johansen situation could set them back.
What this comes down to is the 22-year-old Johansen trying to maximize his earning power following a breakout season in which he led Columbus in both goals (33) and points (63) while playing in all 82 games. He did so while costing Columbus only $870,000 against the salary cap, making Johansen one of the biggest bargains in the NHL.
With his entry-level contract finished, the fourth overall pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is looking for a huge increase. Columbus believes it is giving Johansen what he's looking for with the offer of $3.5 million, which would constitute an increase of over 300 percent from last season. Obviously, Johansen believes he can get the Jackets to go higher.
My guess is even Overhardt doesn't believe his client will get Columbus to offer anything in the realm of $6.5 million a year, but if a holdout gets the Blue Jackets to budget at all from $3.5 million than it would be a win for Johansen.
While Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the front office continue to work with Overhardt to ensure a holdout doesn't happen, Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards is acting like a man prepared for life without Johansen.
"We want him in the lineup," Richards told the Dispatch. "But we'll move on without him if he's not in the lineup. It's like an injured player. If he's not there, he's not. You have to move on. You don't have a choice."
Columbus was hoping the arrival of winger Scott Hartnell would be the biggest story heading into camp. Hartnell came to the Blue Jackets over the summer in a trade with Philadelphia and the club hopes he'll bring the size, scoring and leadership needed for a second straight trip to the playoffs. But Hartnell is the type of player who needs to play alongside a top-level talent (i.e. Claude Giroux) to be at the top of his game. Johansen is the best bet to play that role, but there's a chance he may not be joining Hartnell in the lineup when Columbus opens the regular season Oct. 9 in Buffalo.
There is a good chance this situation gets resolved before the start of the season, but even missing part of training camp could get Johansen's season off to a bad start. Even if it's only for a week, his absence also could prevent Columbus from building the type of chemistry needed at the start of a season.
Holdouts have a way of casting a pall over a season before it even begins. Unless the Johansen negotiations take a turn for the better in the next few days, the dark clouds could begin to gather around what was supposed to be a promising 2014-15 season for the Blue Jackets.
"It's never good, for the club or the player, when a guy who is supposed to be in camp isn't in camp," Richards said. "Nothing good comes out of it. Ever."