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Blue Jackets ready to open camp without Johansen

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Restricted free agent Ryan Johansen, the Columbus Blue Jackets' leading scorer last season, left the city Wednesday on the eve of training camp.

Coach Todd Richards said he won't let those contract negotiations be a distraction.

"Right now he's not here," Richards said. "I'm treating it like the regular season when you deal with an injury. He's not in the lineup. You move past it. If he's in the lineup, great; if not, I've got to find somebody else that'll do it.

"The one thing that will become an issue from what I've seen in the past, just based on my history and what I've been through as a coach, is when you miss time in training camp you try to play catch-up and a lot of times you can't catch up."

Johansen's agent, Kurt Overhardt, said Wednesday the 22-year-old forward is no longer in Columbus. Negotiations between the No. 1 center and the Blue Jackets have turned more contentious in the past 48 hours.

"We don't want Ryan to be a distraction [Thursday] so we thought it's probably best he leave town, so he's left town," Overhardt said.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said earlier Wednesday that Johansen would have to clean out his locker Thursday if he remained unsigned.

John Davidson, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations, said he was awaiting word from Overhardt as to the direction of the negotiations.

Overhardt did not say where Johansen is, but the agent said he was willing to stay in Columbus to further talks.

"We have not drawn any lines in the sand, contrary to what has been reported," Overhardt said. "We've shown a willingness to meet and discuss different possibilities. We've been denied the opportunity to meet. In my mind the negotiations should always still be going on."

Davidson and Kekalainen have been critical of Overhardt's demands for Johansen, who had a breakout season in 2013-14 with 33 goals and 30 assists in 82 games.

Early reports had Johansen seeking a four-year deal but the Blue Jackets balked at the length and instead offered a two-year contract.

"We offered him $3 million a year for those two years," Davidson said. "They want double that. We then went to longer-term contracts. We offered him $32 million over a six-year term. They came back with numbers much, much higher than that. By the way, that number's higher than Jamie Benn's, the captain of the Dallas Stars. It’s not quite a John Tavares [contract] but it's very close. He's a tremendous hockey player with the [New York] Islanders.

"We've offered him eight years at $46 million. They didn't like that either. Our group has been very fair. In fact, more than fair and it's nowhere near, nowhere near what they want and when it gets to that point you go, 'Enough is enough here.'"

Overhardt would not confirm the offers.

"I never discuss numbers exchanged by either party and I won't do that," he said. "I don't think that's appropriate. We're going to continue to keep it a private matter and be professional."

The Blue Jackets are coming of the best season in franchise history, including their second Stanley Cup Playoff appearance. Expectations have never been higher.

The organization would rather talk about anything aside from Johansen, and Davidson opened his remarks Wednesday by mentioning the Blue Jackets' championship at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, which ended Tuesday.

"It gives you a strong sense of gratification that we've got something going on here, not only the club's players that are here now but the youngsters that are going to push for jobs and eventually become Columbus Blue Jackets hockey players," Davidson said.

But the conversation always came back to Johansen.

"We've made every effort to come to a solution here," Kekalainen said. "We've exhausted every avenue. We've tried everything we could. … If I look in the mirror and tell myself, 'Hey, we tried everything we could,' it is what it is after that."

The Blue Jackets open the season Oct. 9 at the Buffalo Sabres.

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