It took awhile for Ryan Johansen to find his feet in the NHL, but once he did this season, he was a force. The fourth overall pick in 2010 led the Columbus Blue Jackets in scoring while winning nearly 53 percent of his faceoffs and was great in the team’s playoff battle with Pittsburgh.
Now Johansen’s contract is up and as a restricted free agent, he has reportedly been offered a “bridge” contract of two or three years by the Blue Jackets. He would still be an RFA when that hypothetical deal runs out. Johansen, a big scoring center that possesses the types of traits most teams want in a No. 1 pivot, would prefer a long-term deal that takes him to unrestricted free agency and that’s where the stalemate comes in.
Aaron Portzine of the Columbus Dispatch got the details on the skirmish, including the following money quote (no pun intended) from the player:
“I’ve earned more than a two- or three-year deal with my play,” Johansen said. “It seems a little disrespectful, to be honest.
“I want to play in Columbus, and I want to be a Blue Jacket, but I want to get this done. It seems like a slap in the face.”
I can see where GM Jarmo Kekalainen and the organization are coming from on this one. Johansen was a raw project when he was drafted out of WHL Portland four years ago and really only has the one excellent season to his name. But players like Johansen have been few and far between in the Jackets organization, where pluck has often outweighed skill. The team has some great momentum coming off their second-ever playoff berth, especially since there were moments in that series against the Penguins where it looked like Columbus could pull off the upset. It would be a shame if the Johansen spat deep-sixed those good vibrations.
But the bridge offer is also dangerous if Johansen turns into a dominant pivot in the next two years. Just look at how Montreal messed up with P.K. Subban.
The Habs gave their superb young defenseman a bridge deal in 2012, locking him in for two years with a cap hit of $2.8 million per season. Then Subban won the Norris Trophy. And now he needs a new deal in a summer bereft of blueliners. What’s the price tag on Subban’s deal now? He can command at least eight years and $8 million per, I would think.
Had Montreal given him a longer-term deal instead of a bridge originally, maybe Subban would have been locked in for a few million less per season. And that’s what the Jackets face now with Johansen. Clearly he’s not stoked about the idea of a bridge deal and likely won’t forget about it the next time he’s negotiating if he does cave.