If you haven't been living under a rock, you know what's going on with the Columbus Blue Jackets and RFA Ryan Johansen. A sticky, ugly negotiation turned public that most recently saw the Blue Jackets open up a wealth of potential contracts to their young star. That John Davidson hit the "nuclear" option by opening up these negotiations to the public should show just how ugly this has gotten for Columbus and their young star.
As of this writing Johansen is not interested in any of them, and since he's driven this far down the "hardball negotiation" road he may as well keep trudging. Or maybe he takes the public negotiations as a shot against his character and throws it back at JD with silence. Either way, it's a bold strategy to go public with negotiations and essentially call out your own player for "extortion."
As fans of the New York Rangers, we're all very familiar with this song and dance. In fact, just last year the Rangers saw their star number one center hold out over being offered a bridge deal in Derek Stepan. That spat resulted in a short holdout -- which turned into a slow start to the season -- but was eventually settled with a two year, $3.075-million deal.
That holdout forced Stepan to miss all the pre-season games last year. The holdout the Blue Jackets have now instituted -- they told Johansen he's not permitted to train with the team until he's signed (rightfully so) -- might end now or last much longer. You simply don't know. And that, right there, is really the only leverage you have as a player coming off your ELC.
If you're important enough that your absence from the team would cause a problem, it's the only hill you have to stand on. And right now Johansen is standing on it, and he's dug himself in pretty deep.
That alone, however, isn't really enough leverage to force a team's hand. Eventually, Johansen has to know that sitting out does more damage to his value than playing, and unless he forces a trade (which Columbus wouldn't even really need to entertain anyway) he's going to be wearing a Blue Jacket or nothing this year.
Here's the deviation from what the Blue Jackets are going through right now and what the Rangers have gone through in the past: The Rangers have set a long precedent with these negotiations. RFAs coming off entry level deals get bridge contracts. It's the one and only time a team has almost all the leverage, and Sather uses it almost every time.
I say almost because Ryan McDonagh most recently bucked the trend. Way back when, Marc Staal also bucked the trend. Aside from those two, the list of players who have accepted bridge deals are long and extensive. Artem Anisimov, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky are a few players no longer with the team who accepted them. Stepan, Carl Hagelin, John Moore, Henrik Lundqvist (it took arbitration but it happened), Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarrello are all current players who at one point accepted them. J.T. Miller is just one of the many players who will have this offered to him in the future.
There are big, big names on that list. Players that have become big names and players who will (hopefully) become big names. McDonagh is a shining example. He proved himself to be a generational type of talent. He earned the right to avoid the bridge deal. He created his own leverage with consistent play.
As the Rangers go down this road with their RFAs, negotiations will inevitably get ugly. Stepan's negotiations were pretty ugly. Dubinaky's were by far the worst, and created such bad blood Sather reportedly didn't negotiate his next deal for fear that Dubinsky would demand more to shove it back in his face. But no matter how angry an RFA gets, no matter how hard he stamps his feet or how loud he cries, there's a precedent that's been set by Sather, and it is what it is.
And as much as it might suck when you're going through it, it's days like this that make you realize how happy you are it's a precedent that's been set.