3 key restricted free agents missing NHL camp

The stalemate between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ryan Johansen over contract talks have softened as Johansen's agent has lowered his salary demands by $2 million.

Don’t call them holdouts.

But despite being healthy and eager to play, the following three players’ old contracts have expired and thus have yet to attend their respective team’s training camp. Each is a restricted free agent coming off his most impressive season. Each needs a new NHL contract.

Yet with puck drop looming on Oct. 8, the teams and/or players have drawn a hard line in negotiations.

Here is the latest on three guys who should be playing now.

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Ryan Johansen
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Age: 22
Position: Centre
2013-14 cap hit: $1.9 million

Bargaining chip: Johansen’s breakout season could not have come at a more lucrative time. The B.C. native led all Blue Jackets in scoring in 2013-14 with 33 goals and 30 assists. Better: He was a point-per-game guy in the upstart team’s six-game playoff series loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Timed his career year with the franchise’s best year.

Where things stand: Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, and the Blue Jackets are embroiled in what beat reporter Aaron Portzline calls “an epic standoff.” Overhardt first asked for a two-year deal at $6.8 million per season. He has since dropped that request down to $4.7 million per, but club president John Davidson finds the price too high and is holding firm at $3 million per year on a bridge deal. On Sept. 26, Portzline reported it’s been more than a week since the two sides have held talks.

Brenden Dillon
Team: Dallas Stars
Age: 23
Position: Defence
2013-14 cap hit: $900,000

Bargaining chip: The 6-foot-3 bruising blueliner from Surrey, B.C., is waiting things out north of the border. Dillon has been a durable lineup regular for Dallas the past two seasons. His career-best 17-point effort in 2013-14 climaxed when he threw down a Gordie Howe hat trick in a 4-3 shootout win over the Coyotes on Feb. 1.

Where things stand: “We’ve been having communications, but that’s the way it goes. I hope we have something done here quick, I am anticipating,” Stars GM Jim Nill told the Stars website regarding Dillon and fellow RFA Cody Eakin. “But it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up. We knew there was going to be healthy competition even if they were here, but it is even more competition now.”

Dillon spoke to the Vancouver Sun about playing the waiting game: “You grow up playing hockey and you’re thinking ‘oh, I just want to play the game, it’s so much fun.’ Then you realize it is your job. For me, I don’t want to think of it as a holdout, I want to think of it as hopefully getting closer to playing and I’m really confident things are going to get done sooner than later. It’s one of those things where it can go from not talking to all of the sudden having a deal done in a day.”

Cody Eakin
Team: Dallas Stars
Age: 23
Position: Centre
2013-14 cap hit: $637,778

Bargaining chip: Depth centre Eakin scored 16 goals and 19 assists for the Stars last season. The Winnipeg native picked up his game in the playoffs, when he threw up five points—including a Game 4 winner that tied the series—in a thrilling six-game series with the Anaheim Ducks. With Seguin and Jason Spezza centring the top six, Eakin is poised to give the bottom half of the lineup a scoring punch.

Where things stand: Agent Jarrett Bousquett, who represents both Eakin and Dillon, told the Dallas Morning News he believes in negotiating based on comparable contracts, a style similar to arbitration. So far Nill has run things smoothly in Big D. How these two standoffs are handled could be interesting.

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