Who will return first, Horton or Johansen?

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The Columbus Blue Jackets issues at forward grew Thursday as it was announced veteran Nathan Horton is suffering from a “degenerative” back condition. Horton’s ailment is in addition to the much publicized contract dispute between the Jackets and star center Ryan Johansen.

Thursday’s news prompted Columbus Dispatch reporter Aaron Portzline to ask, “Who will be back in the Blue Jackets’ lineup first, No. 1 center Ryan Johansen or wing Nathan Horton?”

As bad as the Johansen negotiations have been, Portzline mentions that Horton’s injury could be season-ending, if not career-ending.

Horton, 29, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career having played in all 82 games just twice in his career and not since the 2007-08 season with the Florida Panthers.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is hoping rehab can help Horton’s return.

“Everybody is different, obviously, because there is pain involved,” said Kekalainen. “I think Nathan Horton is probably more frustrated than anybody right now as far as trying to find a way to get stronger and get back to being able to play again. It’s about getting stronger and managing the pain by getting stronger in the core.

“Then, your back gets stronger and the pain will go away. (He) is the only person that really knows where he is at and how much pain there is involved. It’s impossible for anybody else to know what he is going through right now. He is suffering.”

As for the Johansen negotiations, Portzline says there’s nothing new to report. It is believed the two sides are $1.7 million apart, per year, on a two-year contract.

Johansen, who skated along side Dallas Stars holdout defenseman Brenden Dillon in Vancouver Thursday, is expected to join his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League for practice on Friday.

Related: Even some agents don’t get what Overhardt is doing with Johansen demands