NEW YORK — There appears to have been a thaw in the contentious contract negotiations between Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The sides resumed discussions on Monday and Tuesday, according to Blue Jackets president John Davidson, and they were characterized as much more “civil” than the last time they sat at the table together.
“It had been the first time there’s been discussions in awhile,” Davidson said after a meeting of the NHL’s board of governors. “They were very polite, well-mannered.”
Tempers flared two weeks ago once it became clear that a deal wouldn’t be completed in time for Johansen to report for the start of training camp. Davidson labelled the negotiating tactics of Kurt Overhardt, Johansen’s agent, as “extortion” and even took the unusual step of publicly disclosing the team’s offers at that point. (A two-year deal worth $6 million; a six-year deal worth $32 million; and an eight-year deal worth $46 million).
Johansen is coming off a season where he led the Blue Jackets with 33 goals and 63 points. The 22-year-old also serves as the top-line centre and Davidson indicated that the organization remains open to any length of contract the player wants.
“A deal would interest us — it doesn’t matter if it’s short term or long term,” he said. “We just want something that’s fair to the organization and something that’s fair to the player. There’s got to be a framework there that makes sense where both sides will understand that it’s a good deal.
“That’s what we’re about, that’s what our ownership’s about, we don’t want to lowball anybody. We don’t believe in that. We just want to do the right thing.”
Johansen is one of several restricted free agents around the NHL that experienced a rocky contract negotiation this off-season. Players coming off entry-level deals have no arbitration rights and therefore don’t hold much leverage in talks.
When it was suggested that the Blue Jackets might be more willing to bend after injuries to Nathan Horton (back) and Boone Jenner (broken hand), Davidson said that those situations had “zero” bearing on negotiations with Johansen.
“It has nothing to do with trying to define what’s a fair contract for your organization and for the player,” said Davidson. “We have a lot of very good young players who had a great camp. We’re excited about that. Our future’s great. One player can help your team, but one player does not make your team.
“We’re not a bare bones organization. We’ve got a lot of talent there that have had a great camp, a super camp.”
Columbus opens the regular season at Buffalo on Oct. 9 and there seems to be renewed hope that Johansen might be back in the fold by then. Once the sides sign off on a new contract for the budding star, Davidson believes that any ill will between them should dissipate.
“I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t,” he said.