The contract talks between the Columbus Blue Jackets and restricted free agent Ryan Johansen have gotten off to a rocky start. Just last Monday, Johansen claimed the first offer he received from Columbus was a “slap in the face.” The breakout star made it known loud and clear he had no interest in the bridge, show-me type of contract the team offered him.
Since this story, seven days have come and gone, and there hasn’t been much news regarding Johansen’s contract extension. Word is the talks are “ongoing,” but that appears to be the only word being used at the moment. Other than that, both sides appear to be mum. As the silence continues, should Jackets fans be confident a deal is being worked out, or is there reason to begin worrying?
First of all, GM Jarmo Kekalainen is expressing not only confidence, he’s practically daring any other NHL team to try and steal Johansen away.
“If he signs an offer sheet, he signs an offer sheet,” Kekalainen said. “Our ownership is strong, and as I said before, we would match any offer he could possibly sign. If somebody wants to waste their time and effort on that, that’s fine for them. We’d just match it and keep the player.”
Not only is the Jackets GM expressing no fear in the concept of losing one of his marquee players, he’s also indirectly telling Johansen he’ll be in Columbus next year, no matter what happens in negotiations. Of course, NHL offseason is a nutty place, so while Kekalainen may be sure he can match any offer, there’s always the chance a team swoops in and overpays for Johansen’s services.
One question to ask is just how firm each side is in their current stance? Johansen says he flat-out won’t take a bridge deal, but can he be talked into it if enough time passes? Kekalainen comes off with a “take it or leave it” mindset, but is he willing to be so headstrong he’d risk the relationship he has with his next potential superstar? Negotiations are, often times, an intense staring contest. Each side wants the other to know they won’t blink any time soon. Eventually, however, someone’s going to budge.
Luckily, Columbus isn’t dealing with this ongoing negotiation along with a tight salary cap. Currently, the team has 21 players under contract, but $15 million in cap space. So, whether it’s a bridge contract or a long-term deal, there’s no reason to believe Johansen won’t be getting a raise he can appreciate. At the end of the day, the issue is term.
Convincing a player he needs to prove himself on a short-term deal is a dicey situation for any front office. Essentially, it’s telling a player, “Look, we believe in you, but we just want to make sure we can believe in you for the long haul.” It’s not as offensive as what occurs in arbitration, but it still comes off as a GM hedging his bets.
At the end of the day though, the silence isn’t just coming from both Johansen and the Jackets, but it’s also coming from the rest of the league, as no team has heard the initial comments from Johansen and put forth an offer sheet. So, it certainly sounds like there isn’t a ton of leverage in Johansen’s court.
This, coupled with the considerable amount of cap space Columbus has available, leads me to believe the quiet from both camps is nothing to be worried about. Johansen will undoubtedly get the raise he wants, and once the term is figured out, all the panic should subside.