The news that Mike Reilly would not sign in Columbus broke yesterday afternoon, but after months of delays and hedging from his camp, it wasn't much of a surprise.
Reilly had several options under the CBA when he decided to go the NCAA route, and he exercised them. I don't think he's a bad person, or some kind of moustache twirling villain. He's a 20 year old kid who is, perhaps, a bit of a dick for stringing the organization along for several months, but he had an opportunity to dictate how and where he would begin his pro career, and he took it. That's life.
What is more interesting to me is this much discussed tweet from Ryan Johansen a few minutes after the news broke:
That tweet set off almost as much discussion as Reilly's decision. Some praised him for "sticking up for the room" and "setting a tone" for whenever Reilly's eventual team arrives in Columbus next season. Others brought up Johansen's protracted contract saga, and accused him of hypocrisy, but I think there's some differences there.
Johansen wanted paid, but it's worth pointing out that he never signed an offer sheet, despite some of the rumblings from his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and never gave any indication that he intended to play somewhere other than for the Blue Jackets. Once he did arrive, the season he put together and his performances on and off ice during the all star game festivities and through the rocks and shoals of the past season were fairly clear statements of his commitment to the team, even if there may still be some hard feelings between Johansen and the front office.
I think it's that last - the tight relationship that's grown in the locker room between the teammates - that drove this, and raises some interesting questions.
The trials of last season brought the room together, helping with the "Us against the world" mentality that seemed to carry them at times, particularly in the final quarter of the season. It's the same bonds that lead to Nick Foligno being recognized as their Captain after he took on a greater leadership role, and has shown the players growing deeper connections to each other during the offseason as we see them visiting each other, popping up in little twitter exchanges, or documenting their summers on Instagram and Snapchats.
That chemistry is fantastic - and it's clear that the players want people who will become a positive part of that.
The downside is that will have to be on the minds of the front office when they look to address the weaknesses in their roster this offseason. It's clear the team needs some skill and speed on the blue line, which they'd hoped Reilly would provide. That will need to come from somewhere - and a trade seems like the most likely route. Do you go for someone who has what you need on paper, but may be less than excited about coming into the Columbus locker room? The team has seen how quickly that can sour a club, Do you make a move that ends up sending a valuable piece out (Artem Anisimov's name keeps floating about in trade rumors), and find that the former player's presence was an important piece of maintaining that good chemistry when things got rough?
Similar discussions will come thanks to the growth of players like Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano, and Oliver Bjorkstrand. There are going to be a lot of talented forwards trying to push the established group come training camp. Where does that leave the team when they consider some of their veterans with contracts that are either up (in the case of Mark Letestu), or on the brink, like Anisimov?
Mike Reilly didn't want to be here. That's OK. But as was the case with James Wisniewski, the club is fast approaching a point where there are going to be players who want to be in Columbus, and the team may not be able to find a place for them all.
One of the toughest parts of this team's growth was finding their identity. Now the challenge will be making sure they can maintain it.