Blue Jackets GM to Johansen: It’s about the team, not ‘one guy’

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The funny thing about contract negotiations is that they’re often contentious … until they’re not. At least, that’s what often happens when teams and players do a good job of keeping whatever’s personal private and play it safe with “all-business” public comments. Things get a little dicier when some of that venom spews into newspaper stories and blog posts.

At this point, the Columbus Blue Jackets seem like they’re struggling to contain their frustrations regarding negotiations with rising star forward Ryan Johansen. One can almost imagine steam coming out of GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s ears when reading his comments to the Columbus Dispatch:

“Maybe it’s because I’m European, I don’t know, but I want everybody there to start getting together and working together, and I want it to be about the team,” Kekalainen said on Sunday. “That’s how we were successful last year and the year before – it was about the team, not about one guy.”

When pressed after implying that he’d close off negotiations with Johansen’s agent Kurt Overhardt once training camp started, Kekalainen’s response was curt and maybe even worrisome:

“Draw your own conclusions.”

Before Blue Jackets fans get too concerned about seeing the 21-year-old sit out a big chunk of time if a deal isn’t reached, it appears that Kekalainen might let cooler heads prevail:

One cannot help but note that Kekalainen is still new to the GM gig, as he was hired back in February 2013. As shrewd as he’s been so far, is it possible he’s allowing his emotions to get the best of him here? Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes that threatening to sit out games is one of the few bargaining chips high-profile RFA’s really hold.

It is believed that Columbus is willing to go a touch over $4 million at the highest, while the player ask is $6 million-ish, down from where things started. It sounds like the Blue Jackets talked to the Coyotes about what they went through with Kyle Turris, another Kurt Overhardt client. The agent took a tough line with Arizona, as he did with Vancouver while the Canucks tried to trade Ryan Kesler. Johansen’s strongest leverage is missing games. Is he willing to do that? It would be an unpopular stance, not always an easy thing for a young player.

The sticking point, again, is track record versus perceived potential.

“We’ve shown it many times, that our ownership is committed,” Kekalainen said. “Look at Brandon Dubinsky. We paid him (this summer). Look at Nathan Horton in free agency (two summers ago). They are willing to make the commitment when it’s earned. We have no problem paying the dollars when it’s earned, but the key word there is ‘earned.’ While we believe in his future, we want to see him do it a little bit longer than just one year.”

It’s easy to see where each side is coming from, but it doesn’t sound like the word “compromise” is on the tip of any tongues. Perhaps that will change before things get even messier in the form of missed regular season games and/or hurt feelings?