When Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operation, John Davidson, sounded off last week over the Ryan Johansen imbroglio, he backed up his stance by saying, “There are agents that can’t understand it.”
We at thn.com thought we would put that theory to the test. And if our sampling of conversations with 10 prominent agents is any indication, unfortunately for Johansen and his agent Kurt Overhardt, Davidson is right. There are a good number of player agents out there who can’t understand the stance Johansen and Overhardt have taken. (Last week, we spoke to 10 GMs for their views on the stance the Blue Jackets have taken.)
“I think it’s been terribly mishandled by the player and the agent,” said an agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It flies in the face of all convention. I look at it almost like a lawyer dealing with a client in court. I would tell the player, ‘If you insist on taking this position, our chances of success are almost nil. I don’t like your chances at all and I’m under obligation to tell you that. ‘ ”
To review, Johansen is a restricted free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets who can’t come to terms on a new deal. The Blue Jackets have offered $6 million on a two-year bridge deal, $32 million for six years and $46 million for eight years. Johansen has countered with a two-year deal worth $13 million, which would be by far the richest bridge deal for a player coming out of his contract without arbitration rights or without receiving an offer sheet. (Update: According to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Overhardt has recently countered with an offer of two years at $9.4 million, which would be $4.7 million per year.)
And it’s important to keep in mind that, as a free agent, Johansen has the right to seek whatever he thinks he’s worth, regardless of whether or not others think it’s an outrageous amount. It’s also worth noting that Overhardt has never publicly discussed the numbers and almost all of the public mudslinging has been done by the Blue Jackets. Overhardt, in fact, was in Columbus for the start of training camp and was prepared to speak to the Blue Jackets, but they refused to meet him.
And Johansen – who is not, repeat, not a holdout – is hardly the first player to sit out because his demands were not being met. Drew Doughty and Ryan O’Reilly have most recently done it and players have even sat out entire seasons, as Michael Peca did in 2000-01. Brendan Witt sat out an entire season before he played even one NHL game when he couldn’t come to terms with the Washington Capitals.
But still, most agents spoken to by thn.com reacted in a range from being perplexed to flabbergasted at the tactics taken by Overhardt and Johansen.
“Don’t you have to actually earn it at some point?” one agent said. “How many players have had one good year and we never hear from them again? We never learn anything as agents if nobody teaches us. And for the good of the game, management has to be able to do its job. How does it benefit any of us if teams misallocate resources?”
One of the criticisms of Overhardt and Johansen that has come up recently is that he’s asking for a contract that doesn’t exist. (And again, just because it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean Johansen, or any other player for that matter, doesn’t have the right to demand it.) The most a player has received in Johansen’s situation on a bridge deal is Matt Duchene, who got a two-year deal worth $7 million in 2012. But Duchene was coming off by far his worst year as a pro, having scored only 14 goals and 28 points the previous season. Johansen, by contrast, had 33 goals and 63 points and led the Blue Jackets in scoring.
“That kind of money might make sense on an a longer term, but it doesn’t make any sense on a two-year deal,” one agent said. “With a deal like that, you’re buying only one year of arbitration rights and that’s not worth $6 million. And he’s a very good player, but it’s not like he’s head-and-shoulders above everyone else.”
He might have a point there. A better comparison than Duchene is probably Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks. Couture was in precisely the same position as Johansen when he did his bridge deal in 2012. And his numbers were remarkably similar to Johansen’s. Couture had scored 31 goals and 65 points for the Sharks that season, then signed a two-year bridge deal worth an average of $2.875 million per season.
One agent did concede that it’s difficult to comment on the Johansen situation without knowing the internal discussions that have taken place between the player and the agent. “We don’t know whether the player is reacting to a position the team might have taken,” and agent said. “If the team proposed two years at $2.5 million a year, then the agent is probably going to come back with a proposal that is out in left field. Then both sides realize they’re being childish and roll up their sleeves to get a deal done.”
He also said the peril in doing a long-term deal is that when the salary cap goes up, those deals look far less appealing for the player. For example, the contract the Boston Bruins originally signed with Tyler Seguin have him under contract for the next five years at an average salary of $5.75 million. John Tavares is committed to the New York Islanders for the next four seasons at an average of $5.5 million. Those are two great contracts for the teams, not so great for the players. If Johansen were to accept the Blue Jackets eight-year offer, his average salary for the term of the contract would be $5.75 million.
“At the end of the day, our job is to maximize the earning potential of the player,” he said. “You look at some of the long-term deals players have taken and they haven’t really done that.”