Nearing the end of their restricted free agency saga this summer, the Washington Capitals filed an arbitration request against forward Marcus Johansson for a one-year deal worth $3 million, an individual with knowledge of the situation confirmed, while Johansson’s camp countered at $4.75 million. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Toronto.
Nearing his 25th birthday, which will come around the start of his sixth NHL season, Johansson enjoyed a career offensive campaign under Coach Barry Trotz, notching 20 goals in 82 games, including 17 at even strength, and posting a 53.1 percent even-strength shot attempt differential, by far the best of his tenure with the Capitals. For comparison, Johansson recorded only five even-strength goals in 114 games between 2012-13 and 2013-14. Depending on how center Nicklas Backstrom’s health affects the depth chart during training camp, Johansson could begin next season at center, but with the Capitals at full strength should fit at either second- or third-line left wing, jockeying for position with Andre Burakovsky.
Unlike with goaltender Braden Holtby, whose $8 million request first raised some eyebrows and later turned into a five-year, $30.5 million deal, Johansson’s camp stuck around its initial ask during contract negotiations, which haven’t gained much steam this summer. Asked recently whether talks had increased with arbitration nearing, General Manager Brian MacLellan replied, “I think they’re status quo from last time.” Reached via email recently, Johansson’s agent wrote, ““Nothing to comment on at this point other than we continue to prepare for the arbitration hearing.”
The Capitals, meanwhile, dropped slightly from earlier offers to Johansson, which had hovered in the mid-$3 million range. The one-year request, like with Holtby, would ensure Johansson re-enters restricted free agency next summer. Johansson is coming off a two-year contract worth $2 million annually. The respective asks are equivalent to those recently filed by the Nashville Predators and forward Craig Smith, a 25-year-old with back-to-back 20-goal seasons. Smith and the Predators eventually settled for a five-year, $21.25 million deal, in the 48-hour window between the arbitration hearing and the deadline for a binding ruling.
The Capitals, MacLellan said, are prepared for something similar.
“Hopefully we can come to an agreement before then, but again we’re willing to go through the whole process and keep negotiating,” MacLellan said.
Speaking recently to Värmlands Folkblad, a Swedish daily newspaper, Johansson was asked about his situation with the Capitals.
“I’m not worried about that, I think I will continue to play there,” Johansson said, as translated by Malin Andersson on HockeyRamblings. “My focus right now is on training hard and getting myself prepared, for I know I will be playing. We will just have to wait for everything to be dealt with and finalized. It’s all part of the normal process and I have people over there that are doing the things they are supposed to be doing.”
For what it’s worth, several individuals with knowledge of the situation shot down the idea of the Capitals walking away from an arbitration ruling with Johansson, allowable if the award tops $3.8 million, so the threat of him not returning to Washington next season is virtually non-existent, barring some decision outside the bounds of the current asks.
Without Johansson signed, the Capitals currently hold $4.22 million in available cap space, per GeneralFanager.com, with either $750,000 or $950,000 soon coming off the books, depending on which backup goaltender loses the competition to slide behind Holtby. Either way, they can go 10 percent over the salary ceiling until training camp ends, leaving plenty of time to figure out matters if Johansson’s new deal vaults them beyond the upper limit.
Johansson’s agent, Marc Levine, did not return messages seeking comment. The numbers were first reported by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.