NHL RFAs being low-balled; what is Flyers' GM up to?; more camp notes
Surely by now Ryan Johansen senses that the walls are closing in.
The restricted free agent fought the good fight in an effort to win the contract he thinks he deserves from the Blue Jackets, something befitting the center's status as a 30-goal scorer and the centerpiece of the franchise.—something in the $6 million per year range.
He has to know there's no way that's happening now.
A spate of team-friendly signings has kicked the legs out from under him. The Blues and 25-goal scorer Jaden Schwartz agreed to a two-year deal on Saturday that averages $2.35 million per season. On Monday, center Cody Eakin inked a two-year deal with the Stars that has an average annual value of $1.9 million. On Tuesday, the Bruins signed 20-goal scorer Reilly Smith and All-Rookie defenseman Torey Krug to one-year deals worth $1.4 million each. On Thursday, blueliner Brendan Dillon agreed to terms with Dallas on a one-year, $1.25 million contract.
All that action left Johansen as the only remaining unsigned RFA. More significantly, the deals have reinforced the level of control that NHL teams have over players who are coming to the end of their entry level contracts. The teams, after years of abandoning the one position of strength that was granted to them by the CBA—check out the generous second contracts that were given to RFAs Jeff Skinner (six years, $34.35 million), Jordan Eberle (six years, $36 million) and Tyler Seguin (six years, $34.5 million)—have finally decided to exercise their power.
Does Johansen deserve more than the $3 million or so the Jackets are offering? Maybe ... but, to quote Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, “Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.” Columbus has held the trump cards all along. The team might increase its offer slightly as a conciliatory gesture, but that's about all Johansen can hope for.
If Johansen wants to play in the NHL this season, he's going to have to bite the bullet. Or he can stay home and pout. His call.
GMs playing lowball
Though it won't generate the same media buzz as trading for Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza, the last two deals orchestrated by GM Jim Nill reinforce how effectively he's managing the Stars.
Cody Eakin's contract slightly favors the team, but the Brendan Dillon signing is so heavily weighted to Dallas's benefit that you almost want to take up a collection to help the kid out. It's easy to make the case that a top-four defenseman with Dillon's unique physical skill set is more valuable (and certainly more irreplaceable) to the team than a third-line center like Eakin. The blueliner's request to be paid like Erik Gudbranson ($2.25 million) or Danny DeKeyser ($2.125 million) was perfectly reasonable.
But Nill held firm. Whether he did so based on principle or a desire to keep space under the cap in the event that Rich Peverley can return at some point this season doesn't really matter. The CBA gave Nill that power. He used it.
Given how pervasive Nill's approach was throughout the NHL over this past week, you have to believe that these signings are going to reverberate into next summer. Player agents might want to begin the process of lowering their clients' expectations now.
* In Arizona, the Coyotes' return of Max Domi to juniors—without any apparent consideration given to granting the 19-year-old center a nine-game NHL trial—isn't surprising. Despite having four assists, including three on the power play, in four preseason games, Arizona decided that Domi didn't warrant a top-nine spot. That's telling considering how desperate the team is for offense after losing both Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro this summer. But if the kid isn't mature enough to handle the big-league grind it's better that he work his problems out in a lower-stakes game. The 'Yotes are still likely to have at least one fresh face who breaks camp with the varsity: Justin Hodgman, a 26-year-old center who played for three different KHL teams last season.
* In Philadelphia, GM Ron Hextall is said to be fired up over rumors that he's actively shopping Luke Schenn and/or Nick Grossmann to clear a roster spot for 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin. The reports originated with TSN's Bob McKenzie, who is not exactly someone who throws stuff at the wall to see what sticks—he has a lot of credibility. Assuming that McKenzie's reporting is correct, just what is Hextall thinking? There's nothing wrong with considering trades with the goal of improving his club, and that may be all that's going on here. Or maybe he's testing the waters to see what his options are in case Morin makes himself indispensable after his nine-game trial. The Flyers' blue line is already shorthanded with leader Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) out indefinitely. But moving a proven top-six NHL defenseman to create space for a 19-year-old rookie—even one who's 6' 7", 225—seems like a risky move for an executive who has always been held in high regard for his patience. Doesn't mean it wouldn't happen, just that it would seem out of character.Rocco Grimaldi