The Capitals and Marcus Johansson were literally minutes away from arbitration, but the two sides have reached a deal that sees the versatile Swedish forward back in Washington on a three-year, $13.75-million deal.
Johansson, 25, was set to become the first player to head to salary arbitration this summer, with his hearing slated for 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. According to the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, though, the Capitals and Johansson were able to come to terms on the new contract at 8:57 a.m. How’s that for taking things down to the wire?
The new deal is a successful one for the Capitals, especially when considering the difference in salary heading towards arbitration was $1.4 million. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had reported that Johansson was seeking $5.25 million in arbitration, while Washington was hoping the deal would fall closer to $3.85 million per season. With a $4.58-million cap hit, the sides meet almost exactly in the middle.
“We started getting close to each other this morning,” Johansson said. “I think both parties were hoping we could figure it out before we went into the meeting, and I think both parties are really happy we did. A little bit of a tight schedule before the meeting, but I’m happy that we worked it out.”
Johansson scored 17 goals and 46 points this past season, adding another two goals and seven points in 12 post-season outings. With the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov and signings of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, Johansson wasn’t exactly looked at to be a top contributor and his ice time has stuck around the 16:30 mark per game over the past two seasons.
The most important thing about the Johansson signing is that the Capitals were able to get it done without putting too much pressure on their salary cap going forward. While the $4.58-million cap hit is higher than Washington initially wanted to go, it works for the Capitals and it keeps Johansson locked up for two years of potential UFA status.
“There’s obviously the cap in the NHL, and (Washington) has to find a way to stay under it,” Johansson said. “We finally came to an agreement that makes both parts happy.”
As of Johansson’s signing — and before the team inks rearguard Dmitry Orlov to a deal — Washington is projected to have nearly $23 million to work with next off-season. That’s before any potential growth in the salary cap ahead of next season.
It’s important for Washington to have and idea what kind of cap space they’ll have to work with come July 1, 2017, because Oshie, Williams, Daniel Winnik and defenseman Karl Alzner will each be up for unrestricted free agency. That’s not to mention Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Stanislav Galiev, defenseman Nate Schmidt and goaltender Philipp Grubauer will be restricted free agents. A new deal for blueliner John Carlson, a UFA in 2018, is also going to need to be figured out.
The Capitals may have to pick and choose which players they re-sign — veterans Williams and Winnik might need to be sacrificed to keep the drafted-and-developed talent in house — but the nearly $23 million Washington has should be enough to take care of the team’s key free agents. And having that much space to keep the team intact is an important part of the Johansson deal.
It should be noted, too, that if Washington feels the need to rid themselves of a core, top-six player, Johansson might fit the bill. According to Khurshudyan, Johansson’s new deal features a five-team no-trade clause in the final two seasons. Once Las Vegas joins the fray, it gives the Capitals 25 possible trade destinations for Johansson should they need to move him out of town to free up cap space.
It hasn’t been a busy off-season for Washington GM Brian MacLellan, but when he’s made moves, they’ve worked. The Johansson deal works for both team and player, and the Capitals appear set to keep their key pieces in place for the foreseeable future. That can only bode well for the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners.
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