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Contract talks turn ugly between Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets have laid their cards on the table and Ryan Johansen has to decide whether to call their bluff.

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

The contract negotiations between the Columbus Blue Jackets and restricted free agent Ryan Johansen have taken an ugly turn -- one that makes the situation look more like a high-stakes game of poker in the Old West.

We've talked already this week about how it was time for the Blue Jackets to start seeing things Johansen's way. Initially, Columbus offered a "bridge deal" of two years worth $3 million to $3.5 million per season, while Johansen was seeking a long-term deal worth $6 million to $6.5 million per year.

That gap has created problems for the Blue Jackets. Team president John Davidson told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News that Johansen's demands amounted to "extortion" and that if they "caved in to his demands" they would "all be fired."

At a team press conference on Wednesday, Davidson laid out all the offers they've made to the 22-year-old forward.

Two bad offers, and one that's not great

A two-year, $6 million deal is what Columbus wants most. It's the "bridge deal" they're gunning for and what Johansen and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, have flat out said they don't want to do.

The six-year, $32 million offer is not bad, but still not great. With a $5.3 million cap hit it's more money. The contract would also eat into two years of unrestricted free agency in a time when the salary cap will continue to to balloon upward and having a potential No. 1 center locked in at that amount is great for the team, and not so much for the player.

You can almost throw out the eight-year, $46 million offer right away. If a team is going to buy up four years of unrestricted free agency, they'll have to pay a lot more than $5.75 million a year to do it. Yes, it's the long-term deal Johansen is looking for, but the money doesn't make sense for him to commit to that at all.

"What do you mean, Joe? That's a ton of money! I'd take that offer in a heartbeat!"

Well so would I, hypothetical Internet commenter, but we're not working in that world so just forget all of that.

Johansen's camp fires back

As for Johansen, his agent is doing all the talking for him and he appeared on TSN Radio in Toronto to discuss the contract standoff and Davidson's comments.

Well, sort of.

"With all due respect, I don't think you do respond. I don't think [Davidson's comments] deserves a response," Overhardt said. "It's business. It's private. It's between Ryan Johansen and the Blue Jackets. It's unfortunate, but I was raised to have integrity in what I do by the people that raised me. It's unfortunate they've taken this course, but we're just going to ignore it and work in good faith to get a deal done."

Taking the stiff upper lip/passive-aggressive approach isn't as fun of a way to counter the bombastic statements and intense way Davidson has gone about things, but if there's any common ground here, it's that both sides want a deal done. They just have diametrically opposed viewpoints on what's best.

Making matters worse, Overhardt flew to Columbus to try and get something done only to be rebuffed by the team.

So what happens now?

The ugly road appears to be the one that lies ahead here, but what are the real options?

If Johansen signs an offer sheet from another team, the Blue Jackets have more than $14 million in cap space and would likely match it in a heartbeat.

Trade? Good luck getting fair value for a player of Johansen's talent after souring the fan base on him for asking for too much money. Besides, neither the Jackets nor Johansen are looking to part ways.

This is a high-stakes game now and someone is going to have to push all-in.

The stakes are too high for the Blue Jackets, who can't afford to let a player of Johansen's abilities get away now, or years down the road. Johansen, meanwhile, can't afford to be made out to be a problem child this early in his career. It's time to find the middle ground and fast.