The Leap of Faith: Ryan Johansen & Jordan Eberle

Johansen-Ryan-1-BlueJackets-2014

Negotiations between Columbus and star centre Ryan Johansen seem to have imploded rather badly. Blue Jackets’ management is publicly very frustrated, and on Wednesday went so far as to release publicly the three offers they had made to the RFA centre.

It’s an interesting negotiation to watch from an Oilers perspective, because Edmonton has gone a different direction with its young players – and has to make decisions on others in the future.

The Columbus Route

As I see it, the Blue Jackets’ decision to release those offers tells us two things:

  • They’re hoping to rally fan support to their side
  • They aren’t totally sure about Johansen

On the first point: these numbers look rich, and that’s going to bring fans onside – we all know the people who will interpret this as ‘That’s almost $50 million for a guy with one good year!’ There isn’t much upside to releasing these numbers except that it conveys to fans that the club is offering real money.

The dollars aren’t really that rich. A two-year deal at $3.0 million per is pretty clearly a win for the franchise; it’s a cheap bridge deal that will certainly deliver two years of value. The six year deal would buy two additional RFA years and two additional UFA years – and assuming that the Jackets value the first two seasons at $6.0 million total that puts a value of $6.5 million on those four years. Not bad if the team is getting two UFA seasons in that mix. The eight year deal is a bigger bargain, featuring two UFA years six seasons from now at $7.0 million per. Does anyone really believe that Johansen is going to be that cheap six years from now as an unrestricted free agent if he continues on last season’s path? Of course not.

The Blue Jackets don’t have much choice, though, because a long-term deal comes with significant risk. The team’s obvious desire for a bridge deal is probably more than just a club being cheap; they have good reason not to trust Johansen. As I noted in my Sportsnet piece a few weeks back, as recently as the spring of 2013 Johansen was a healthy scratch in the AHL and his phenomenal year this season involved a massive shooting percentage spike.

There’s a leap of faith involved in looking at a season like that; the Jackets don’t really want to take it.

The Edmonton Route

Eberle-Jordan-2-Oilers-2014

It seems obvious to compare Johansen to Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins given draft position, but I don’t think that’s quite right – both Hall and Nugent-Hopkins were much more successful early than Johansen has been (despite the recent move by some in the media to retcon Nugent-Hopkins’ first year as a disaster).

The better comparison is to Jordan Eberle. He doesn’t have the draft pedigree of Johansen, but his early work was better and both had shooting percentage-driven jumps in their 21-year-old seasons. Eberle scored 34 goals and 76 points; Johansen scored 33 goals and 63 points. Edmonton promptly signed Eberle to a six-year, $36 million contract – despite the fact that he still had a year left on his entry-level contract. The deal bought four years of RFA eligibility and two years as a UFA at a cost $4.0 million greater than what the Jackets are offering Johansen on the same term.

I thought it represented an overpay at the time for a player in Eberle’s salary position – most RFA’s, especially then, didn’t get those deals, and I was convinced his 2011-12 campaign was an aberration. So far, though, it’s worked out alright because while the player’s scoring totals have fallen off he’s still averaged 28 goals and 65 points per 82 games played. Given his reputation there seems little question that the Oilers could trade him tomorrow for a handsome return if they wanted to do so; that ultimately shows what the market thinks of the contract. There is no question that those UFA years are worth more than $6.0 million per year, whatever Eberle’s RFA years are worth.

But the important thing here is the organizational philosophy involved. The Oilers decided to believe in Eberle and paid him accordingly. That’s what separates them from a Blue Jackets’ franchise offering $4.0 million less on a six-year deal to a player in a more valuable position (first line centre) and in an environment that has shifted more toward rewarding RFA’s.

Which is the right path?

4-Hall-15

It really depends on the player. For guys like Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, I think an early long-term deal is obviously the right move; these are players with elite-level potential.

For players like Eberle and Johansen, it’s more difficult and really depends on how the team in question values them. It’s vital to determine exactly what those guys are, where they project if all goes well and if all goes badly and the relative probabilities of each scenario.

If the team believes in the guy, sign him long-term. If the team doesn’t but others out there do, trade him; humans are risk-averse by nature but an NHL general manager needs to have the courage of his convictions and not be so concerned with covering his backside that he won’t take a risk. If the team doesn’t believe in the guy, and other teams’ trade offers indicate they don’t either, that’s the time to play hardball.

In the case of the Jackets and Johansen, it looks an awful lot like the team isn’t really sure of the player but is scared that they might be wrong, and has simultaneously low-balled the player while publicly refusing to even consider trading him. It’s weird.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • BlazingSaitls

    If Columbus doesn’t believe in Johansen and it then leads to a trade where Johansen ends up in an Oilers Uniform; I’d say Columbus had chosen the right path.

      • Spoils

        Oh good…that’s even better than. Since I would have made the trade for Eberle and a prospect this is great news. All Mac t needs to do is pick up the phone now and get Johan and our new prospect. Unfortunately I think you wrong because both players have put up similar numbers but one is 6’3 220 and a center. A position we happen to be very weak at right now. By the way I love Eberle so it’s nothing personal. Admittedly you got a ton of props and I got trashed to the stone ages so maybe I better stick to fashion.

  • I don’t quite understand all the talk on Johansen. Is he going to be our 3rd line center of the future? Or would we make Leon play 3C? That is some big dollars going for a 3C. The focus should be on Anisimov who would be a great 3C behind Nuge and Leon. Johansen makes no sense.

      • I do and so is Khaira but that will be a few years until they are ready for full time duty. Anisimov is ready now. With our current situation at C we need Anisimov (or somebody else) badly if we care about making the playoffs.

        • After watching the young stars tournament, and the game last night, Yakimov is on another planet from Khaira. Khaira was slow every where, he did some okay but not great things on the penalty kill, he didn’t use his size all that often, and in my opinion was carried by his line mates.

          Yakimov, on the other hand, was constantly making thing happen. He’s also a giant. He’d take 3 strides and by in the offensive zone.

          The future of the Oilers will be Nuge, Draisaitl/ Yakimov, Gordon. Maybe Khaira makes it as our fourth line shut down guy way in the future, but his speed is a major issue.

    • ubermiguel

      Agreed, I haven’t heard anyone say his upside is higher than the Nuge or Dr Drai, so that puts him in the #3 spot long-term. And he’s had one good year people! If his shooting % regresses to normal levels then he’s a 55 point a year guy. In that light he’s not worth Eberle plus, or Yak plus. Maybe Yak straight up, but mostly because he’s also an unproven commodity on an ELC.

    • Saazman

      I agree, why are we trying to land this guy? We have Drai, Yakimov, Khaira ect. almost ready for the big show. We only need a guy for one year really until Leon is ready or we go with what we all expect to happen which is have Leon play 2C for us this year which will probably mean another lottery pick.

      Oiler can’t keep playing this game of suck. Yet I have no solutions for this current problem either. I guess just suffer one more year with Leon at 2C while he learns the game?

      • It would be nice to have a veteran presence at centre, somewhere in the line up. Ideally you’d want a Kesler at number 2 C, then have Draisaitl learning on the third line, until he’s ready to move up.

        But, instead the Oilers will likely push him into the line up now, promote him next year, and likely bring someone else up.

        For the record, I am strangely for this plan after watching Draisaitl and Yakimov play over the past week.

    • I rather have Anisimov, but only because of the cost.

      I think Leon is 2 years away and he probably should break in at 3C at that time. He’s shown flashes in the rookie games but his skating needs work. It may be better for him to break in as a LW. Yakimov is probably more NHL ready. Johansen makes more sense if you look at Draisaitl in those terms.

    • Zarny

      No, Johansen makes perfect sense.

      Would he be our 3C of the future? No, he’d be our 2C of today. On some nights he’d be the Oilers’ 1C instead of forcing Nuge to give up 30 lbs to players who are older and just as skilled.

      Your comment relies on the assumption that Draisaitl is a given to succeed. That simply isn’t true. Jonathan Huberdeau was a 3rd overall pick from a relatively weak draft too. 3 years after being drafted he had 28 PT in 69 games.

      You’re only fooling yourself if you think that isn’t an option for Draisaitl. I’m sure both will be good NHL players, but there is no guarantee when they will reach their ceiling or how high it will be.

      • I agree, we don’t know how great Leon will be. Unfortunately, the road is laid out for Nuge and Leon to be 1-2. It might not work that way but that is the vision now. If you bring Johanson in it will not work long term unless Nuge or Leon is moved. We don’t have the cap space since we invested into several other areas. The time to add a top center to the mix is not now. We need more time to know what the story is and not jump the gun.

        • Zarny

          I disgree. Once again you assume there is no other option than Draisaitl succeeding. That simply isn’t the case.

          The only reason the vision is for Nuge and Leon to be 1-2 is because they are the only viable option right now. And that vision hinges entirely on the assumption above. You know what they say about assumptions…

          It won’t work out long term? You mean like Duchene, O’Reilly and MacKinnon in Col?

          Maybe; IF Draisaitl actually progresses to what so many mistakenly think he already is. There is no guarantee though. Draisaitl may not be any better than a 3 C for 4-5 years.

          Now IF Draisaitl progresses as hoped you could get into a situation similar to Pit with Crosby, Malkin and Staal. First world problems if there ever were.

          At that point sure you might choose to trade Nuge or Leon? So what? Draisaitl hasn’t played a single game in the NHL and already he’s untouchable in 2-5 years?

          That type of thinking is the reason the Oilers finished 28th last year. Johansen might play out his entire next contract before Leon is ready for prime time. Draisaitl may never get there. Or maybe he gets there next year. Cross that bridge when it’s reality not fantasy or speculation.

          • oilerjed

            Jumping in here.
            Add to the fact that while Nuge is good, he still may only be a 2C in the end. Maybe 2 years from now I will have to eat those words but I for one am still not giving up the ghost in the hunt for a legit 1C. And IMO Nuge hasnt shown that he can handle that job on a contender.

          • Serious Gord

            well done.

            For years now the oil have begun seasons with rosters full of unproven assumptions. This year is no different. Yet many seem to think this year will be.

            And it may indeed be different. But it will be against heavy odds.

            And if it isn’t, there are NO excuses – they know/knew the risks they are/were running. And therefore the people in management should be held responsible AND TERMINATED (finally).

            It amazes me how wreckless mact/lowe are… Even Eakins said he has only two nhl centres at camp – RNH and Gordon.

          • pkam

            I agree Drisaitl is unproven, but how proven is Johansen?

            4 years after his draft, he only has one good year. After his draft, he was sent back to juniors and post 92 pts in 63 games. Drisaitl had better number (105 pts in 64 games) in his draft year.

            Before last season, Johansen post 2 NHL seasons at about 0.3 ppg. Only one season at 0.768 ppg and he is a proven top 2 center?

            His S% was an exceptionally high 13.9% last season compared to his 9.1% and 6% the previous NHL seasons. If his S% was at a more reasonable 11%, he would have 26 goal and 56 pts and 0.683 ppg instead.

            Does it mean if Drisatle has one NHL season at around 0.75 ppg in any of the 4 years after his draft he will be a top 2 centre? Do you believe Drisaitl won’t be able to achieve that? I really don’t think that is a very difficult challenge.

          • Cubro

            I think you are missing Zarny’s point.

            At the risk of speaking for him, he is not saying the Johansen is proven. I think he is saying that you dont pass on a top 5 pick like Johansen if you can get him just because you have 2 other top 5 picks at C already. You hedge your bet and find room for all 3 unproven players because its well within the realm of possibility that one of them doesn’t work out.

            If they all work out then like he said. “First work problems”.

          • pkam

            If you read his comment again, he questions Drisaitl but he never questions Johansen.

            For example, “Now IF Draisaitl progresses as hoped you could get into a situation similar to Pit with Crosby, Malkin and Staal. First world problems if there ever were. ” which indicates that Drisaitl may or may bnot work out but Johansen is already proven.

            Like I said, if all it needs to be a proven top 2 centre is 2 NHL seasons at 0.3 ppg and one season at 0.75 ppg, it is very hard to think Drisaitl is unable to match.

          • Maybe Leon will be a bust, we don’t know yet and I’m not willing to give up on him already. Especially not for Johanson who would rather watch hockey from his couch than helping his team win. Why don’t we trade Yak too?? No thanks

    • Cubro

      Are you sniffing glue? Already pencilling in a 19 year old kid as the 2nd line center of the future? Johansen would be an UNREAL pickup . I think something like this

      Hall Johansen Eberle

      Perron Nuge Yak

      Pouliot Drai Purcell

      Hendricks Gordon Pitlick/Arco

      That actually looks like nhl depth

  • Saazman

    Do we need another young center? Don’t we need to bring in a guy to bridge us over until Leon is ready? In a couple of years we could be looking at there not being enough ice time for the three centers. Or we have a contract that we can’t get rid of for a center that had one good year… We are waiting for your own eggs to hatch, we don’t need Columbus’

  • Spoils

    Use Eberle to get Johansen, columbus’ best RW is Horton then Atkinson. He’d be a welcome addition especially if Jenner is capable of playing top 9 minutes as a Centre next year

    As for people freaking out “ZOMG WE HAVE LEON AND YAKIMOV”

    1) Relax, neither guys are guaranteed, especially Yakimov.

    2) Can never have too many centres, use one to trade for a Dman or hell if Leon is better than Nuge in a couple years, trade Nuge.

    3) Draisaitl is also a capable LW

    I’d do:

    Eberle + Petry + Klefbom for Johansen + Letestu + Savard + 2nd round pick

    to me Eberle is under Johansens value as Johansen is a big Centre

    Petry>Letestu – both have a year before UFA

    Klefbom for Savard + 2nd, debatable but nobody should freak out here.

  • ubermiguel

    Eberle lead his team 2 seasons in a row in scoring before he got the contract.

    Johansen had 95 points in his first 3 years.

    Eberle had 119 points in his first 2 years.

    Pretty big difference here.

      • pkam

        I guess I was trying to say Eberle had less questions after 2 solid seasons. Lead his team in scoring as a rookie, finished top 15 in scoring in the NHL the year after.

        I think a better comparable is Duchene, he had some questions after his first 3 years.

      • Zarny

        I guess I was trying to say Eberle had less questions after 2 solid seasons. Lead his team in scoring as a rookie, finished top 15 in scoring in the NHL the year after.

        I think a better comparable is Duchene, he had some questions after his first 3 years.

      • pkam

        Eberle only did better early NHL? Other than his rookie season, he is over 0.8 ppg every year and the best year is 0.97 ppg.

        Johansen is 0.313, 0.300 and 0.768 ppg in his 3 seasons so he hasn’t even had a season with 0.8 ppg.

        I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t know about the future but up to this moment Eberle is the clear winner.

    • pkam

      Johansen is a big center that was learning to play a much more difficult position. The 2 year comparison is irrelevant, though, as a big center that can score is more valuable to a team than a smaller scoring winger.

      FWIW, during the 2010 draft buildup there were plenty of comments that Johansen could end up being the best pivot from that draft. Topping Seguin will take some work, I guess, but there is some time before that decision can be made. That being said, Johansen has a good shot at ending up being a better #1C than Nuge.

  • pkam

    This philosophy, I believe, led to a bit of an overpay on J.Schultz. MacT is believing that he’ll be a Norris candidate, just not with this candidate, but he’ll build towards it. There are risks with this strategy, but I’ll take them over having your number 1 centre disgruntled and likely leaving town.

  • When you lok at the 30G 30A forwards hwo achieved this only once by age 21.
    Players like Toews, P. Kane, Bergeron, Eberle, E. Staal, J. thorton, Kopitar, Seguin, …..
    The average of there post lockout RFA contracts
    is 10.4%

    10.4% of 69M is 7.2M

    These players were given 7.2M in current cap terms.

    jordon Eberle was 6m of 64.3M cap 9.33% thatis buying 2 years of Cap.

    the kid is in his right to logically ask for 6M over 5 year with zero UFA years.

    that is the history.

    Davidson’s pony show is a bold faced lie!

  • Zarny

    Mr. Willis is absolutely correct that “It really depends on the player”.

    At the end of the day, it’s a human business. You are investing in people. Not just their talent and skill but also their focus, determination and work ethic.

    Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch has reported the Blue Jackets will have no problem giving Boone Jenner a long term contract because he’s spot on with his work ethic. First guy at the rink and still running stairs when everyone else has left the building. That’s not Ryan Johansen according to reports. Lazy is probably an overstatement but he’s nowhere near as driven as Jenner.

    You often see comments about talented players like Lecavalier to the effect of “what happened?”. And then you read a statement from Vinnie saying this summer was the first time he was on a meal plan since early in his career. Success can cause complacency and it’s a death sentence in pro sports.

    What’s interesting from the Oilers’ perspective is that CBJ is very deep at C but need help on the W. The Oilers are the complete opposite.

    If negotiations in CBJ are as toxic as they appear I’m not so sure there isn’t a viable trade option. 30 G RW don’t grow on trees; but they are a lot more common than 30 G C who are 6’4″ 230 lbs.

  • Zarny

    @JW

    If the Jackets don’t want to trade him do you think they will match an offer sheet structured similarly to their three deals but with a higher AAV (ie. $8-9M/2 years, $36M/6 years, $46M/7 years)?

    Do you think any team would benefit greatly pulling such a move or is the compensation of giving up a first round pick in this year’s draft too great?

    To me any team that needs another center in their top 2 lines and has enough pieces to contend for a playoff spot should take that risk. I wish the Oilers didn’t have so many question marks and were definitely in that position but there are other teams like Winnipeg, Nashville, Arizona and New Jersey who would be legitimate playoff contenders with a player like Johansen.

  • vetinari

    Teams have to be more careful about rewarding players with lucrative contracts based on a one year production aberration.

    In our own house, we handed out contracts to Horcoff, Pisani and many others based on only a good year or two and in today’s salary cap world, these contracts cut down on your ability to keep other players on your roster.

    At this point, it’s obvious that there is a big difference on what the team and the player thinks Johansen’s payday should be and it’s not going to change anytime soon. If CBJ can get a decent return, trade the man and let him be someone else’s gamble.

  • Serious Gord

    I like the idea of Perron and package for Johansen. As long as he is real deal which is skeptical.

    Perron G 28 A 27 P 57

    Still in prime and a total pest. While I like him a lot I would be much more comfortable giving him up than Eberle.

    Would Perron (great contract) Prospect and 2016 1st or 2nd & 3rd get it done?

    Move Drasaitl to Left wing for this year or 3C between Pouliout and Purcell. This way we would have options to shelter both Yak and Drasaitl.

    Hall RNH Eberle
    Drasaitl Johansen Yakupov/Purcell
    Pouliout Arcobello Purcell/Yakupov
    Hendricks Gordon Gazdic Shutdown line

  • Serious Gord

    Do u really believe rnh is a first line center yes very good player but at most 2nd line center on most teams but to win u need the big 1st line and johannson from columbus fits the bill so the oil should throw out a offer u can never have two many good centerman focal points on teams goalie dman center

  • Serious Gord

    IMO the need at centre for this season – and perhaps next season – is acute. Going into the year with the current roster is just asking for disastrous results.

    As Mact has left it far too long leaving johansen at an expensive two to three year contract as almost the only option.

    I say trading Eberle or, more preferably perron plus other bits might be a good deal if it was possible to do it on some sort of sign and trade arrangement.

    That is hardly ideal, but the predicament the oil is in makes it so. And if it happens the blame rests on mact/klowes shoulders.

    ….

    As for the public announcement of the offer, you would think davidson would have better sense. Nothing good can come out of it even if it brings johansen to the table because of the bad blood it creates. DUMB DUMB DUMB.

  • Spoils

    How about Drai, and Klefbom for johansen? We don’t essentially lose anyone, but gain a big 2C. Maybe add Petry. Regardless of the chips used this would be, imo, a huge win for the Oilers organization if they could land a guy like RJ. Drai, Ebs and Petry, for RJ, Savard, and a first?

  • Cubro

    I love how on this blog, RNH is a great first line center. Lets not forget the other #1C he has to go up against on a nightly basis in our division. Getzlaf, Kopitar and Thornton must LOVE playing edmonton. The oilers should be doing everything they can to get Johansen, as of now the only untouchable oiler to me, is Hall.

  • pkam

    The comparables to Eberle may be justified however Eberle has been more consistent from his first shift on.

    What need to be discussed is how a Agent can negatively hamper a players long term success by comparing him to players like Stamkos and Crosby.

  • Zarny

    Make no mistake, John Davidson is not Kevin Lowe. Davidson has demonstrated success in running hockey teams! He will not give in nor will he sign unproven young players to ridiculous contracts like Lowe has. Davidson is no fool. Kevin Lowe is and his pathetic losing record as an executive for the Oilers is the laugh of the NHL. Please do not compare these 2 guys, you are embarrassing Davidson!