TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – When Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen took agent Kurt Overhardt to task for his handling of the Ryan Johansen negotiations on Monday, it turned out that was just the warm-up act. When it came to president of hockey operations John Davidson to take his turn, he turned both barrels directly on Overhardt.
This is getting ugly, folks. And personal. The organization has chosen to make the agent the villain in this tale and Overhardt, for his part, wants no part of the public mudslinging. And that’s probably the best plan of attack for him. If someone has to be vilified here, it’s better that it’s the agent rather than the player.
“It makes no sense, Davidson said. “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.”
As has been well documented, the gulf between the two sides is immense. There have been discussions about a long-term deal, but most of the talk has centered around a two-year bridge deal. The Blue Jackets have offered $3.5 million a year and it’s believed Johansen is seeking $6.5 million per year. Those are numbers that have never been given on a two-year bridge deal to a player coming off an entry-level deal and Davidson, whose voice raised several times during the conversation, said they’re not about to come to reality for Johansen, either.
“We understand the make-up of our team, we understand the CBA, we understand players deserve money and players deserve to be paid the way they should be paid and we’ll continue to do that,” Davidson said. “And we will in this case, but we’re not going to be held to extortion numbers. That’s absurd.”
Davidson insisted that no matter how bitter things become between the two parties, the Blue Jackets will not even entertain the thought of trading him.
“He’s a good guy and he’s a good player, but you can’t sit here and have the (Steven) Stamkos and the (Jonathan) Toews and the (Patrick) Kane (numbers) 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.”
Davidson seems particularly disgusted by the fact that Overhardt, in Davidson’s estimation, isn’t playing by the rules. The collective bargaining agreement specifically limits the leverage players in Johansen’s situation have because they do not have arbitration rights. Johansen’s only leverage is an offer sheet from another team, which hasn’t happened, or withholding his services from training camp.
“When they have arbitration and they have unrestricted free agency, they try to take us to the woodshed. So now they have no leverage and they’re trying to take us to the woodshed,” Davidson said. “You explain it to me. What are we supposed to do? We’re not being unfair. We’re following a document that’s right there in place.”
Davidson also said the organization has very little interest in going beyond its $3.5 million offer on a two-year deal.
“What’s interesting is people talk who really don’t know the CBA or just want to see something happen. They say, ‘Well just meet halfway. Give him $4 million or $4.5 million.’ ” Davidson said. “That doesn’t make sense. You don’t just give him an extra million or two. A lot of people say it who are writers, broadcasters, fans…they don’t understand the process. They don’t understand the CBA. It’s sitting there. It’s a document. What are we supposed to do, give in when we have rights? Give in when they have rights? Just give in? It doesn’t make sense.”
This has become very personal for the Blue Jackets. Davidson pointed out that it took three months last year to get an entry-level deal for prospect Kerby Rychel, who is also represented by Overhardt. He also said he’s confident the organization can carry on without Johansen in the short-term. He talked of moving Boone Jenner back to center and moving Brandon Dubinsky up to the No. 1 center spot. And he was heartened that the Blue Jackets won the Traverse City prospects tournament Tuesday night with a 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on a goal by Josh Anderson.
“If we ever caved to what (Overhardt) is demanding, we’ll all get fired,” Davidson said. “And I take it personal. I don’t understand it. I take it very personal. What’s he trying to do, get us fired? What’s he trying to do? I don’t understand what he’s trying to do.”
Overhardt was given the opportunity to respond to Davidson’s comments and didn’t feel it would be constructive to get into a war of words with the Blue Jackets.
“Instead of focusing on personal attacks and innuendo, the most important thing to us to work in good faith to come to an understanding to make Ryan Johansen a Blue Jacket for years to come,” Overhardt said. “Ryan is committed to playing his role to help the organization continue to build a winning tradition and he has a great deal of respect for his teammates, coaches, ownership and management.”