Calle Johansson could have waited until July 1, filed for unrestricted free agency and had several teams bidding for his services. Instead, the stalwart defenseman signed a three-year contract extension with the Washington Capitals yesterday for significantly less than he might have earned on the open market.
Johansson, 32, is locked up through the 2002-2003 season. As part of the deal, he received a $300,000 raise this season (from $1.5 million to $1.8 million) and will make $2 million next season with a $100,000 raise in base salary each of the next two seasons, topping out at $2.2 million. Several general managers speculated Johansson, one of a handful of NHL players to negotiate without an agent, could have earned about $3 million a season in this summer's mediocre free agent market. That fact was not lost on the longtime Capital, but it was not a concern.
"I wanted to stay here," Johansson said. "I basically had two choices--either stay here or go back to Sweden, not necessarily to play there, but to move back. I wasn't going to run around and get the best offer in the summertime, because it's not really what I want for me and my family.
"Money is not that important. I'd rather have the deal and know at least for now I can stay here. . . . If I was in this for the money, I probably would have [explored free agency]. But what can I do, buy a bigger car, buy a bigger boat? I don't need it. I'm pretty happy with where I am right now."
The Capitals were eager to retain Johansson. He is the franchise's all-time leader in games played by a defenseman and is likely to become the first player to play 900 games in a Capitals uniform (771). Johansson is in his 12th season in Washington after being acquired from Buffalo in 1989. He is second in franchise history in goals, assists and points scored by a defenseman, trailing Scott Stevens by 21 assists and 21 points for the franchise highs.
Johansson is one of the NHL's most underrated players despite his abundant offensive skills and steady defensive presence. He plays more minutes than any of his teammates and matches up against top forward lines each night. He is calm with the puck and has a booming slap shot from the point. He provides a strong veteran presence and is willing to sacrifice his own statistics to help less experienced defensive partners. Durability also is a strong point--Johansson has missed 10 or fewer games in eight of the last 11 seasons. He has posted 35 points or more eight times in his career.
"It was vital signing Calle," General Manager George McPhee said. "We like everything about him. He can skate and pass the puck as well as anybody. Certainly he's the right guy to have in the room and certainly he really cares about winning."
Johansson hopes to finish his career in Washington and he said he might play beyond this contract. He originally asked for a no-trade clause but settled for financial compensation should the Capitals deal him--something McPhee said he has no intention of doing. Johansson loves living in this area and spends much time on the water in Annapolis. His family enjoys living here. The proximity to several airports makes it easy for relatives to visit from abroad. Johansson likes the climate. And for the first time in 10 seasons there is another Swedish player on the team, Ulf Dahlen, who just happens to have been Johansson's best man in his wedding. For the most part, life is good. The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup.
"I want to win the Cup and it ticks me off so many Swedes have won it and I haven't," Johansson said. "I know the feeling and you can't compare it--I won a world championship and I won a Swedish championship, so I know how to win. I know the feeling and I just want to be able to do it here, that's why I'm playing. I've done this since I was a kid. I love it and you get paid to do something you love to do."
Capitals Notes: Leading scorer Peter Bondra (sprained knee) said he will skate today for the first time since getting injuring last Tuesday.
He will not accompany the team on the road trip but hopes to practice with them when they return this weekend. . . .
Defenseman Jamie Huscroft was recalled from minor league Portland (Maine) to provide extra toughness in case tempers flare in the last of three straight games against the Thrashers.