When keeping it real goes wrong: How Columbus is mismanaging the ugliest contract negotion of the year

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Rangers

Center Ryan Johansen is coming off of a really solid year, scoring 33 goals and 30 assists last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. And the 23-year-old wants to be paid like someone who is going to put up numbers like that for the rest of the prime of his career. The problem is he’s said he wanted to be paid like Steve Stamkos, Johnathan Toews and Patrick Kane. All three of those players have proven that they deserve to be paid like superstars and have more than one good year of production under their belt. That puts a restricted free agent like Johansen in weird spot, especially considering that he scored 14 goals and had 19 assists in the previous two seasons combined. Johansen had a serious come up when he lead the team in scoring and shooting percentage, and he wants to be able to make it rain the next time he’s in the club based off of last year’s production alone.

However, the Blue Jackets front office isn’t too inclined to hand out make it rain money to someone who’s had one year of producing all-star numbers. And if you thought this contract negotiation was a game, the front office let everybody know upfront what a greedy bastard Johansen was when they announced the terms that he supposedly rejected. Saying that one of the young stars on your team rejected an 8 year deal that would have been worth $ 46 million definitely falls into the category of “shots fired”.

We may never know how seriously those contract figures were actually discussed. During negotiations numbers get tossed around pretty loosely so both sides can get an idea how far apart they are. But when your team’s president of hockey operations comes right out the box on media saying that $46 million over 8 years still wasn’t enough, fans start thinking that Johansen set a big pile of money on fire and walked away from the negotiating table like the Joker in Dark Night. Being straightforward with the media about the contract talks is one thing. Saying that Johansen and his agent are attempting extortion with their contract offer goes beyond keeping it real and moves into the area of being antagonistic for hell of it. (I’m surprised the Blue Jackets didn’t also accuse Johansen of bribery, racketeering and bootlegging, since apparently a big part of their negotiation process is to accuse players of committing the same old timey crimes Al Capone would have been a part of.)

On the one hand, I respect the gangsta-ass power move on the part of the Blue Jackets front office. If a player comes at you with a ridiculous contract proposal, and isn’t coming close to agreeable terms by the start of the preseason, publicly shaming him for being greedy is one way to go. The problem with that is it can damage the relationship between the player and the front office. I’m not sure if Johansen wanted a long term deal before, but if there was a way to alienate a player with star potential into signing short-term so he could test the free agent market in a year, this was it.

This is just the kind of thing that makes rumored contract offers from the KHL pop up. It’s hard to take this seriously at first since the GM of CSKA Moscow said he didn’t want to interfere in an ongoing contract dispute. And what Canadian hockey player wants to kick it in Moscow? Or St. Petersburg? And who can name any more than two Russian cities off the top of their head? But If Johansen wants to use the possibility of playing in Russia to his advantage, it can be leverage to either get the fat pay day he’s looking for or force a trade to a team that won’t publicly clown him over contract demands. (Finding that team shouldn’t be that hard because no other team trying to stay relevant would be dysfunctional enough to handle negotiations like this.)

I appreciate what Columbus is trying to do here. Strong-arming one of your best players into to taking a $3 million deal and then refusing to move off your original offer is a good way to go if you think you have enough firepower in your line up to replace him. But 33 goals is hard to replace. 30 assists will be hard to replace. This team barely made the playoffs last year with Johansen’s efforts. This is not the time or the player to be pulling out gangsta tactics. This is like when you get mad at your girl and say you ain’t gonna text her back…but you know she too fine to ignore if she hits you up later. If the Blue Jackets want to keep up their limited success in recent years they need players like Johansen around. Its time for the front office to go ahead and hit Johansen and his agent back and maybe the two sides can meet somewhere in the middle. Some of the money that Johansen is asking for is pretty ridiculous, but this is not the time to be stubborn and walk away from the table altogether.

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