Ryan Johansen (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ryan Johansen ended an off-season of uncertainty and bad feelings in Columbus when he signed a three-year deal with the Blue Jackets Monday. Both sides can claim victory, but the Blue Jackets can claim a more significant one.
In the end, the Ryan Johansen imbroglio ended up rather predictably and much like many of these situations resolve themselves. Each side gives a little and takes a little, with both being able to save face and capable of claiming they made a good deal.
But that middle part, boy, that was a nasty piece of work. The Blue Jackets had the high ground when it came to what they were offering Johansen on a two-year bridge deal, but they certainly did their part to drag this whole process through the mud. The demands Johansen and agent Kurt Overhardt made were pretty outrageous – although Overhardt says they were erroneous – but the fact that this whole thing got as dirty as it did was largely because of the Blue Jackets and their move to personally besmirch the agent.
“It never got ugly, it never got personal from our side, ever,” Overhardt said. “I could say the way people acted on the other side was unprofessional and unnecessary, but we’re not going to worry about that.”
The end result was a three-year deal worth $12 million for a cap hit of $4 million per season. But the key is the way the deal was structured. In each of the first two years of the deal, Johansen will receive just $3 million per season, but his salary will jump to $6 million in 2016-17. That’s significant because that will be the starting point for negotiations in the summer of 2017. If the Blue Jackets want to re-sign Johansen, their qualifying offer will have to be at least $6 million. If they choose to take him to arbitration, the best they could hope for is a 15 percent pay cut, which would peg his salary for 2017-18 at a minimum of $5.1 million.
“When you look at the structure, it’s pretty clear what we were trying to do,” Overhardt said.
So in an absolute worst-case scenario, Johansen will make a total of $17.1 million over the next four seasons. That’s an average salary of $4.275. Not a bad deal for the team.
But let’s say that Johansen and Overhardt were right all along about Johansen’s talent and potential and he steps into the Jackets lineup and becomes an 80-100-point stud starting this season and through the three years of the deal. Let’s say then that he’s worth $8 million a season by that time on an eight-year deal. That would mean that for the next six years, the Blue Jackets would have Johansen for an average of $6 million per season - $12 million for the next three and $24 million for the first three of the new deal. Then they’d have him for an average of $8 million for the five seasons after that. If he completely knocks it out of the park and proves himself worthy of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane money, the AAV on the next six years of the deal would go to $7 million, then $10 million for the last five of the deal.
So in a way, the Blue Jackets come out of this able to say that they won because they managed to keep the first two years of the deal at a reasonable number. If Johansen is as good as he and his agent are projecting, the Blue Jackets will be only too happy to give him enormous money and term. They’ve already said as much. What they didn’t want to do was back the Brinks truck up to the home of a player who had essentially only had one very good season. The Blue Jackets committed serious money and term to Rick Nash and are still smarting from that experience.
So they needed some sort of assurance that situation wasn’t going to play itself out again. The only way this deal goes absolutely sideways for the Blue Jackets is Johansen turns out to be a one-year wonder who either goes bust or has two years that are filled with injury.
And Johansen comes out of this having been rewarded for taking a stand that was entirely within his rights to take. (As a side note, we’re seeing numerous reports that Johansen has ended his ‘holdout’. For the umpteenth time, he wasn’t holding out. He didn’t have a contract.) Johansen doesn’t get near as much as he wanted for the first two years of the deal, but will make the Blue Jackets pay at the other end and sets himself up quite well for a big payday in the future.
Both sides can claim victory, but the Blue Jackets won by a bigger margin than Johansen did. And there’s no shame in that for the player. The collective bargaining agreement is structured to make it that way.
“It’s a great opportunity for Ryan to show what he’s about and to contribute,” Overhardt said. “It will be fun to see where he goes with this in the next couple of years.”
And really, if things work out as planned, this will all be poisoned water under the bridge three years from now.