The nasty contract impasse between Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets is over after the parties agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal. Will bitter feelings remain from the negotiations? Will Johansen have trouble matching last season's numbers after missing all of training camp and the preseason? Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate.
Burnside: Well, my friend, one of the uglier contract squabbles of the past few years has finally come to an end with emerging Blue Jackets star Ryan Johansen signing a three-year deal worth $12 million on the eve of the regular season. As most hockey fans know -- especially those in Columbus who were biting their nails as this saga dragged through training camp -- the Blue Jackets and their top center were at odds over his value to the team after his breakout season a year ago. Things got so ugly that president John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen publicly revealed the numbers of various options they had put before Johansen and his agent Kurt Overhardt.
In the end, not a surprise the two sides ended up finding some common ground as the Blue Jackets will pay $3 million for each of the first two years before providing a significant bump to $6 million in the third and final year. The contract will still leave one more year of restricted free agency for Johansen, who had 33 goals last season and looks like he’s headed for the stratosphere. Were you surprised that the Blue Jackets agreed to the big jump at the end of the deal, and perhaps more to the point, is this the kind of thing that taints the relationship between player and management long term?
LeBrun: The key was obviously for Columbus to swallow hard and accept that $6 million salary in Year 3. It’s more money in Year 3 than the Jackets would have preferred, but in the end, I think they came to the conclusion that, if he continued to play like he did last season, he would probably get that kind of money in salary arbitration after a two-year bridge deal. So at least they get contract peace for an extra year now. "I think Columbus did a good job with this contract in the end," one player agent told ESPN.com on Monday.
But for Overhardt and Johansen, the Year 3 salary is huge; it means that the team’s qualifying offer in the summer of 2017 has to be at $6 million. It also means that if Johansen files for salary arbitration in the summer of 2017, he is guaranteed only a one-year award, which bridges the gap to unrestricted free agency for him.
So much can happen between now and then. For starters, if he continues on his track from last season, you better believe the Jackets will try to avoid arbitration in the summer of 2017 and get him signed to a long-term deal before then. But the question is, where is this relationship now? A lot of hurt feelings during this process. Some players have long memories.
Burnside: Agreed on the long memories, although that third-year paycheck may take a lot of the sting out of what has transpired in recent weeks.
What is more pressing will be how Johansen responds to the new deal and the fact he has missed all of training camp. The Blue Jackets are in a bit of a dicey spot. They created all kinds of expectations within the marketplace and beyond by having a solid season capped off by a strong playoff series against Pittsburgh that saw them win their first postseason game(s). They brought in Scott Hartnell, and I think many figured them to be in a position to challenge for one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division. But Nathan Horton is hurt (again) and won’t be ready for the start of the season. Boone Jenner, who really emerged along with Johansen as a young leader for the Blue Jackets, is out with a hand injury. Does Johansen try to do too much as he drops straight into regular-season action? I think that’s a danger. And we’ve seen young players try to prove their worth coming out of difficult contract talks -- Drew Doughty a couple of years back is a good example -- and get off the rails and take a long time to get back. The Blue Jackets can’t afford to have that happen. Thoughts?
LeBrun: Anytime a player misses all of camp and preseason, it’s going to put him behind the eight-ball. I think you should expect it to take a few weeks before Johansen has his skates under him. Truth be told, the Jackets as an organization still need to see more proof from Johansen that he is a for-sure, reliable No. 1 stud center. (Personally, I’ve seen enough to believe he’s the real deal.) No question he was out of this world last season, but what the front office wants to make sure of before the next contract, the one that will cost way more money and term, is that he’s all business and the surfer dude is gone. I think it’s why, deep down, Columbus would have preferred to do a two-year deal instead to see a bit more performance at the same high level as last season.
Now they get three years to find out.