GMs feel Jackets pain, but question decision to go public with Ryan Johansen

Ken Campbell
Ryan Johansen (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

If Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen can take solace in one thing, it’s that their peers definitely feel their pain. Other hockey executives aren’t so sure about the Blue Jackets taking their beefs with Ryan Johansen and his agent Kurt Overhardt so public, but they do understand the frustration Davidson and Kekalainen are experiencing.

In an effort to determine whether the Blue Jackets are handling this standoff with Johansen in the right way, thn.com canvassed 10 current and former GMs for their views on the subject. As has been well documented, Johansen is a restricted free agent with the Blue Jackets and is currently embroiled in a contract dispute that has gotten quite ugly. It’s so poisoned that Davidson recently blamed Overhardt for his handling of the situation, which was followed by the Blue Jackets making public each of the offers they’ve presented to Johansen, all of which have been turned down. Read more

Blue Jackets president John Davidson turns both barrels on Ryan Johansen’s agent

Ken Campbell
Dillon Heatherington, T.J. Tynan, Marko Dano. (Photo by Ken Campbell)

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. Read more

Ryan Johansen a prickly problem for Blue Jackets…but he’s not alone

Ken Campbell
Ryan Johansen (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The biggest question when it comes to Ryan Johansen’s stalemate with the Columbus Blue Jackets is just because the contract Johansen wants doesn’t exist, are he and his agent wrong for seeking it?

In reality, if the numbers being reported are correct, Johansen is seeking a groundbreaking contract. A two-year bridge deal at $6.5 million a year is about $3 million a year more than the Blue Jackets are willing to pay at this point. At the Traverse City prospects tournament, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen turned the heat up significantly on Johansen and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, by essentially saying that if Johansen doesn’t sign with the team before it opens training camp Thursday, the organization will concentrate on the players it has in camp. “That’s it, that will be the only focus,” Kekalainen told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch Monday.

This, of course, is a pressure tactic. The Blue Jackets have as much to lose as Johansen if he stays out of training camp and this drags into the regular season, so they’ll continue to work at this until something gets done. But the waters are getting more poisoned with every passing day and Kekalainen set his sights directly on Overhardt by suggesting these negotiations are more about the agent than the player.

“From their side…this should be about Ryan Johansen and his future, his long-term future with the Blue Jackets,” Kekalainen said. “This shouldn’t be about setting a standard or about an agent breaking records.” Read more

It’s time for hockey to ban the term ‘holdout’

Ryan Johansen (left).  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

With no signs of progress and the two sides still light years apart, the possibility of Ryan Johansen sitting out training camp, and possibly even part of this NHL season, is becoming more real with every passing day.

And as that day draws nearer, you can expect an avalanche of reports that will indicate Johansen is “holding out” on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Should they fail to reach contract terms with their respective teams, the same will go for Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper of the Minnesota Wild, Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings, Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins and Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues.

But the fact is, not a single one of them is a holdout. In fact, the term “holdout” is antiquated and should be banned from the hockey lexicon altogether. Not a single player has held out since the collective bargaining agreement of 2005. Read more

NHL players hit their peak by 29. How wise is the eight-year contract?

Jason Kay
P.K. Subban will only be 33 when his eight-year deal expires (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).

The NHL took a hard stand during the 2012-13 lockout when it came to maximum contract length, fighting fervently for five years, then compromising at eight (for re-signings).

Since then, up to the pact agreed to by P.K. Subban in early August, 11 players had won max term. In the big picture, it’s a small number, representing a tiny fraction of all deals. But due to the dollars and profile involved, the question remains: is eight great?

The answer depends on your perspective. If you’re demanding equal value across all seasons, prepare to be disappointed. The evidence shows that, apart from notable exceptions, returns diminish on players beginning in their early 30s.

Read more

NHL expansion is coming, just don’t hold your breath

GTA Centre Markam

The NHL has gone a full 14 years without adding a single expansion team, which is the longest period without growth since the league ballooned from six to 12 teams in 1967. The business of hockey is stronger than it has ever been and hockey’s global reach has ensured that the league would be less watered down by adding teams than it has in the past.

So, yes, the NHL is ripe for expansion. That’s probably why a published report that the NHL is going to add four teams by 2017 was met with such enthusiasm. To follow some accounts, expansion to Las Vegas is a “done deal” despite the fact there is no ownership group in place yet and the league will have new teams in Las Vegas, Quebec City, Toronto and Seattle by the time it blows out the 100 candles on its birthday cake. Read more

Gary Bettman got a raise after the lockout and it’s not shocking

Ryan Kennedy
Gary-Bettman

While GMs and fans obsess over how much money they can afford to give P.K. Subban or Ryan Johansen, it seems as though the owners have no problem giving commissioner Gary Bettman a pay bump, no matter the circumstance.

According to Chris Botta of SportsBusiness Journal, Bettman was paid $8.8 million in salary and benefits for the 2012-13 season, despite the fact the campaign was truncated by a lockout. As Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy noted, that was an increase in benefits from the 2011-12 fiscal year when Bettman made $8.3 million.

The immediate reaction in the blogosphere to this news was one of mirth: Is Bettman really worth more than Steven Stamkos or Drew Doughty? This will be an unpopular sentiment, but yeah, he is…to the owners.

Read more

With no resolution in sight, Canadiens taking arbitration risk with P.K. Subban

Ken Campbell
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Barring a couple of last minute settlements, Rand Simon of Newport Sports and Andre Lepage of the BCF law firm in Montreal will have a very busy couple of days. And they’ll probably get to know each other a lot better.

Simon, a former staffer here at THN and now an indispensible contract resource for Newport Sports, is scheduled to argue the salary arbitration cases for Nick Spaling of the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens Friday. Lepage, whose firm is retained by both the Penguins and Canadiens, will be arguing in front of the arbitrator in favor of the teams involved.

Of the 23 salary arbitration cases that were originally filed, only Spaling and Subban remain unresolved. Twenty came to terms before their hearings and Vladimir Sobotka of the St. Louis Blues, who will play in the Kontinental League next season, was awarded a one-year deal for $2.725 million, which he must honor whenever he returns to the NHL.

The arbitration case involving Subban is certainly the most compelling and prominent of all those that were filed and it’s looking as though the two sides are on a collision course that will see this thing go the distance. The two sides have had a history of having difficulty in contract negotiations and as of Wednesday morning at least, were not even close to consummating a deal that is suitable for both sides.

And there’s no doubt the Canadiens are taking a substantial risk here. In their pre-arbitration filings, the Subban camp is asking for $8.5 million and the Canadiens are requesting an award of $5.25 million. The Canadiens could have elected to take a two-year award, but chose only one. And there are a couple of reasons for that. First, Subban will still be one year away from being an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season and the Canadiens have the option of taking him to arbitration next summer. If Subban doesn’t have a banner season, the Canadiens can come in with an offer of up to a 15 per cent pay cut on whatever Subban is awarded.

Secondly, a two-year award would not allow the Canadiens to even talk to Subban about a contract extension for at least 12 months, whereas a one-year deal will allow them to try to hammer out a deal with Subban starting Jan. 1, 2015.

But the risk for the Canadiens is very real. If Subban has an even better season in 2014-15, he could take the Canadiens to arbitration again next summer and really torch them on a one-year deal. If all that happens and he goes through arbitration again, it’s difficult to fathom Subban wouldn’t simply play out his last season before unrestricted free agency then explore the market. And even though the Canadiens can announce as early as June 15 of next year that they intend to take him to arbitration, any team would be free to submit an offer sheet before July 5. The Canadiens would then either face the prospect of losing Subban for draft picks or be forced to match the offer and not be able to trade him for a year.

Either way, Subban wins here. The Canadiens request of $5.25 million represents a 40 percent raise on the $3.75 million Subban made last season. And that’s the worst-case scenario for him. Best case will be arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier chooses Subban’s number of $8.5 million, but she can also pick a number anywhere between the two. (Spaling filed a salary request of $2.85 million for next season, while the Penguins countered with $1.65 million.)

Subban’s hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday and the decision must come down by Sunday afternoon. The two sides have until the decision to work out a deal on their own, but the reality is that if this one gets to the hearing stage, there almost certainly won’t be a deal.

So the fate of one of the NHL’s best defensemen and one of its most marketable players is very much up in the air. And if it goes to arbitration, Canadiens fans had better get accustomed to uncertainty surrounding Subban, probably for the next two years.