Another day, another controversy in Columbus.
According to beat writer Aaron Portzline, the Blue Jackets will make Ryan Johansen a healthy scratch for Thursday night’s game in Arizona, a dramatic move that could portend a trade in the works involving the budding franchise center.
Rumors have been in the air for weeks that Johansen and the organization are at odds and that general manager Jarmo Kekälãinen is willing to cut ties with him and move the floundering franchise in another direction.
The scratch could just as easily be read as a wake-up call for the 22-year-old in the aftermath of another desultory performance against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. Johansen, who led the Jackets in assists (45) and was second in scoring (71 points) last season, had a negative impact in that 5–1 loss, constantly trailing the play while seeming to exert the minimum effort. Coach John Tortorella had seen enough after the first 40 minutes and benched Johansen for the final stanza.
“That was the coach’s decision,” Tortorella told reporters. “No explanation. I just didn’t play him.”
After the Stars game, the Jackets held a players-only meeting.
“I’m not sure what went on in there and I won’t ask any questions,” Tortorella said. “I hope it was productive for them, because that’s key—it’s about them.”
Safe to say it might primarily have been about Johansen. It’s one thing to have a bad game, or even a lengthy slump. It’s another thing entirely to hang your teammates out to dry as he did repeatedly in that contest. It’s a good bet that he heard that loud and clear in the room. How he took it could have played a part in his benching.
Clearly this is a pivotal moment in the relationship between the player and the Jackets. Johansen is a unique talent. At 6' 3", 223 pounds and with 40-goal potential plus the willingness to play a strong, smart defensive game, he’s the redwood that every team dreams of planting in the middle. Trading away a player with his skill set could easily set the plans of Kekäläinen and president John Davidson back three years.
At the same time, Johansen has to be accountable, to the coach, to his teammates and to himself. Lately, that accountability hasn’t been there. It might be because of an issue he has with Tortorella’s tough-love approach. Or maybe he feels a lingering sense of disrespect in the wake of a contentious contract negotiation that lingered through training camp to within two days of the 2014-15 season opener. Whatever the case, he’s not giving his best.
That could change. Vincent Lecavalier famously butted heads with Tortorella when the two first hooked up in Tampa Bay, but within three years they were carrying the Stanley Cup around the St. Pete Times Forum ice. Given time, it’s easy to see these two working together to achieve similar success.
But if the Jackets have concluded that the rift is too deep, that Johansen can’t or won’t deliver the goods, then maybe the short term pain from sending him packing might be worth it.
After this stop in Arizona, Columbus’s next game is Saturday night against Philadelphia at home in Nationwide Arena. Odds are Johansen will be back in the lineup, but at this point no one will be surprised if he’s not.