It’s never a good idea to deal a young, franchise-type center. And yet that’s what one struggling team is reportedly willing to do.
TSN’s Darren Dreger revealed on Tuesday night that Columbus Blue Jackets star Ryan Johansen might be available. While there’s been speculation along these lines ever since new coach John Tortorella joined the team and pronounced Johansen “out of shape,” Dreger says the 23-year-old center is now “softly” in play.
“That doesn’t mean [Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen] is calling teams, saying ‘what are you going to give me?,’” Dreger explained. “However, when teams call, he’s not dismissing the interest. He is saying ‘well, what’s your offer?’
“What that tells you is there’s at least some interest in considering the trade of Ryan Johansen and, as we saw on the weekend, his minutes dropped, he was demoted to the fourth line—so if the right deal comes along, they’ll consider it.”
Blue Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline confirmed Dreger's report on Twitter: “How it was put to me: Not on the block, but definitely in play.”
It’s worth pausing for a moment here and considering this option: Kekäläinen may have floated this concept to see if it would light a fire under a player who has struggled to find his game this season. That’s not the sexy view, but certainly the most logical. Johansen, after all, is the prototypical pillar around which a championship franchise is built: a young, right-shooting No. 1 center with size (6' 3", 218 pounds), skill (he already has a 33-goal season on his résumé) and a reliable two-way game. Teams tend to hold on to players like that.
And if you’re a Jackets fan that’s what you have to be hoping is the play here. Because the alternative is one that’s likely to come back to haunt the organization.
As with that failed relationship, there have been some rocky moments between Johansen and the Jackets. There was early frustration with his development, culminating with a healthy scratch during the 2013 AHL playoffs. There was that petulant contract dispute heading into last season. There have been questions about his desire to remain with the organization long term and what the demands might be when his current contract ends after next season. And there’s been a lingering sense that his commitment level may prevent him from reaching his vast potential.
Maybe that’s enough to prompt Kekäläinen—who wasn’t responsible for drafting Johansen, you’ll recall—to question the player’s place in his big picture.
If that’s all it is, if Kekäläinen is simply weighing his options, then he’s doing his job. And if someone calls with a compelling offer, something along the lines of a potential No. 1 defenseman—say, Nashville’s Seth Jones, a player who will be unfairly hounded by this rumor—then it makes sense to at least hear them out.
But Kekäläinen surely understands that the Jackets aren’t dealing from a position of strength here. Yes, they’re loaded up front, both at the NHL level and in their system, and they’re certainly not lacking for centers. But they don’t have anyone who fits the No. 1 role like Johansen can. And unless they land a top pick this year (Auston Matthews) or next (Nolan Patrick, Gabe Vilardi) they can’t plan on back-filling via the draft.
Johansen has his warts but he’s young. Giving him the opportunity to develop into the player he can be is part of the process.
And it sure makes more sense than giving up on him.
The numbers game
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• The NHL has announced the rosters for the Winter Classic Alumni Game. Brian Leetch and Ray Bourque on a D pair? I’d pay to watch that.
• Here’s a roundup of the latest Travis Hamonic trade rumors.
• An old pair of skates has made its way to a third generation of Beagles.
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