Updated 4:07 p.m.: Before another lockout takes hold of the NHL, the Capitals crossed the final item off their summer checklist.
Restricted free agent John Carlson signed a six-year, $23.8 million contract Friday that will keep the young defenseman in Washington through the 2017-18 season. According to details released by the team, Carlson will earn $3.8 million in 2012-13 and $4 million each of the final five years of the deal.
It’s an unsurprising raise for the 22-year-old, who was coming off of his three-year, $2.625 million entry-level deal. In his first two full NHL seasons, Carlson emerged as half of Washington’s shut-down defensive pairing and the blueliner knew he wanted to ensure a long-term future with the Capitals.
“I think for me it’s comfort level. Knowing I’m going to be around, that I can focus on myself and the team rather than trying to focus on what comes next,” Carlson said. “I really like the city, I like the situation being close to home and the team that we have here. So I felt this is what I wanted to do and I was adamant about it.”
Few restricted free agents are in a position to negotiate long-term deals, but given Carlson’s standing as one of the Capitals’ top defensemen, his offensive upside and trajectory as a player he had more leverage.
“We’ve done a lot of what we call bridge deals — just one- or two-year deals just to make sure that we knew what we have in the player and then if he turns out the way you hope, it’s easier to commit to the player going forward,” General Manager George McPhee said. “In this case, we were pretty comfortable with what we have in the player, the direction he’s going in and what he can do.
“He’s a good size guy,” McPhee continued. “He’s strong enough in the corners to come up with the puck, he defends real well, he’s mobile, he’s got offense in his games, he stays healthy and hasn’t missed any games the last couple of years. So we thought in this particular case that the longer term would work for us.”
During the 2011-12 regular season, Carlson experienced some growing pains but still managed to record 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists) and ranked second on the team in average ice time (21:52 per game).
In the playoffs, though, he emerged as one of the Capitals’ best and most consistent players in series against the Bruins and Rangers. He averaged 24:02 per game in the postseason and chipped in offensively as well, with two goals and three assists.
“I felt that, obviously, I wasn’t at my best all season long. But I thought I played great in playoffs,” Carlson said. “I still think that I can get better and there’s things that I can take from last year, not just for playoffs but for myself to kind of know where I need to be every game. That’s just one of those things that you think a lot about in the summer, and when it comes time to play, I’ll have something I need to work on then.”
After NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday that the Board of Governors had unanimously supported a lockout if a deal on a new CBA is not reached by 11:59 p.m. Saturday, teams across the league are scrambling to sign players under the current agreement.
Already on Friday, in addition to Carlson’s signing, goaltender Kari Lehtonen agreed to a five-year, $29.5 million deal in Dallas while the Red Wings announced the signing of Justin Abdelkader (four years, $7.2 million) and Carlo Colaicovo (two years, $5 million). More signings may be on the way as well.
McPhee acknowledged that he wanted to get a deal done before the CBA expired, a lockout began and he was no longer permitted to work out a deal with a player. As for what he expects of Carlson going forward, McPhee said he’s simply pleased with his development and wants to see it continue.
“He was in the NHL in short order and has played very well since he’s been here,” McPhee said. “He was probably our best all-around defenseman last year and we think there’s still a lot of room to grow. He seems to play his best games in the big games and that’s what you like to see.”