Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Prove Your Worth It

Ryan Johansen had himself a pretty great season last year. He led the Columbus Blue Jackets in goals and scoring with 33 goals and 63 points, respectively. He was part of a resurgence in Columbus where fans flocked back to the arena to see the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, win their first playoff game in history, and put a scare into the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again, Johansen was a big part of all those things happening. So when Johansen's entry-level contract ran out this summer, it was expected he would be re-signed without much trouble. Instead, we've got a Hatfield-McCoy style battle brewing in Ohio as the Blue Jackets and Johansen's camp are nowhere near each other's offers for a new deal.

Make no mistake in what's happening here: the Blue Jackets are asking the question of "was this one good season" while Johansen's camp is saying "the start of many good seasons". In the NHL's "what have you done for me lately" mind, the Blue Jackets are taking the sane approach in asking for a reasonable bridge deal similar to those of PK Subban and Matt Duchene. In other words, "do it again, and we'll reward you". After all, in 107 NHL games prior to last season, Johansen had just 14 goals and 33 points over those two seasons.

So what changed?

First off, Johansen has matured physically. He looked like he owned the ice some nights last season, and it understandable that he carries a lot of confidence in himself going into this season. The 6'3" forward has grown into his frame as he now stands around 220 lbs. as opposed to the 190 lbs. he started with in 2011. He's a big man in a big man's game, and he showed that he is ready for the challenge of playing that game last season. That's a credit to both sides: the training staff got him ready for the NHL game, and Johansen bought into the regiment in becoming a solid NHL player.

However, those previous two seasons still linger in the minds of Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson, the men holding the money. While Johansen exploded onto the scene last season, there's no guarantee the same thing will happen this season. Or future seasons. There are many examples of this in the NHL, and the one most similar is that of Dustin Penner. Granted, Penner had a decent season in Anaheim last year, but he was missing-in-action most other nights since 2010. For a man asking for a lot of money like Johansen, it's a mistake that neither Kekalainen nor Davidson want to make.

"It makes no sense," Davidson told The Hockey News' Ken Campbell. "When you see numbers that are thrown at us, we shouldn't even respond. That's how bad it is. It's embarrassing. And if the kid sits out, he sits out. I wonder if the agent's going to pay him his money back that he's going to lose by sitting out.

"With the numbers they come back with... are so one-sided it's nonsensical. It's extortion is what it is. I don't make this stuff up. I've been in this league doing this for a long time now and this one here, it's baffling is what it is. This one's baffling. Baffling."

Davidson, for what it's worth, has been around a long time in the NHL. He played, he managed, he's been president for a couple of clubs. If he's insulted by the offers made by the Johansen camp - in particular, agent Kurt Overhardt - then you know that this is only going to end when either the player swallows his pride and accept the bridge offer or the club realizes it's missing a big piece of its success from last season. Judging from Davidson's comments, the Blue Jackets probably will absorb a few losses in the standings rather than absorbing losses on the bottom line if Johansen regresses.

The chasm between the two sides is huge when it comes to the money. Reportedly, the Jackets softened a little today when they offered Johansen $6 million over 2 years, $32 million over 6 years, and $46 million over 8 years. Once again, the Johansen camp rejected all the offers. Davidson made the comparisons of his player to other players to Campbell.

"He's a good guy and he's a good player, but you can't sit here and have the Stamkos and the Toews and the Kane deals thrown at us," Davidson said. "He's a good player, but he's not Stamkos and he's not Toews and he's not Kane, at least not yet. He's not."

And therein lies the rub. The Blue Jackets sound like they'd be more than willing to pay the big dollars to Johansen if they had some sort of repeat performances of last season. That hasn't happened yet. That's why the Blue Jackets aren't offering big money, and why they feel that Johansen's camp is edging towards insanity with their numbers.

This isn't rocket science by any means, and this negotiations aren't personal in their nature. However, as both sides go longer without a deal, it starting to become personal. The Blue Jackets want their dynamic, young scoring threat in the lineup. Johansen wants to be paid for his results. What would be smart for Johansen to do is accept the bridge contract, hit the ice and dominate, and then come back for more. It's an easy solution if Johansen's camp would relent for one or two seasons.

Take less now for a lot more later. In other words, prove that you're worth Toews or Kane or Stamkos money in Columbus.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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