The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Arbitration ruling awards Marcus Johansson one-year, $3.75 million contract

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

As the business day ended and the weekend began, still no decision had been announced in the arbitration case of Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson, his prolonged saga stretching some seven hours past Friday afternoon’s deadline. All the while, both sides waited for the binding ruling, which finally — mercifully — arrived around 8 p.m.: a one-year contract for Johansson, worth $3.75 million.

The value of the new deal falls roughly between the $3 million requested by Washington and the $4.75 million filed by Johansson in the pre-arbitration briefs, which set the parameters argued during Wednesday morning’s hearing in Toronto. After both sides made their cases and rebuttals, the meeting ended around 1 p.m., kicking off the 48-hour clock for the decision to be issued via email. During Friday’s wait, both parties were briefed on the reason for the delay, which occurred on the arbitrator’s end, turning the afternoon into a simple waiting game.

Unlike with goaltender Braden Holtby, who signed for five years and $30.5 million in between the hearing and the ruling deadline, the Capitals and Johansson did not work out a new deal before the arbitrator’s decision came down. However, while Washington and Holtby held mutual desires for a long-term contract, the team and Johansson had discussed shorter agreements, according to sources. Now, thanks to the Capitals’ club-elected term, the Swedish winger will return to restricted free agency next summer, where the arbitration process could begin anew. Or, he could sign a longer deal before then.

Speaking recently after Holtby’s deal was announced, General Manager Brian MacLellan discussed the difficulties in finding, as he called it, “apples-to-apples” comparables for the netminder for the team’s arbitration argument. Johansson’s case, however, posed fewer such problems. Nearing 25 years old, Johansson recorded the first 20-goal season of his NHL career in 2014-15, including 17 even-strength goals, and also set a career-high with 47 points. In this arbitration period alone, Nashville forwards Colin Wilson (20 goals for the first time, career-high-tying 22 assists in ’14-15) and Craig Smith (23 goals, 21 assists) presented decent comparables; they settled for average annual values of $3.94 million and $4.25 million, respectively.

At the very least, Friday’s ruling brought a much faster end than Johansson’s previous contract negotiations with the Capitals, when in Sept. 2013 he finally signed a two-year bridge deal worth $4 million, only four days before veterans were scheduled to report to training camp.

Reached via telephone around 12:30 p.m., Johansson’s agent, Marc Levine, declined further comment on the case, saying only that he expected a settlement to come through a ruling, and not some 11th-hour agreement reached beforehand. A teleconference with MacLellan and Johansson is expected within the next several days.

This upcoming season, once center Nicklas Backstrom recovers from arthroscopic hip surgery and the Capitals return to full strength, Johansson figures to battle beside second-year forward Andre Burakovsky for the second-line left wing spot, with Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams figuring to occupy the remaining top-six positions. Coach Barry Trotz could return Johansson to center for training camp to patch the hole left by Backstrom’s injury, but Burakovsky or Brooks Laich are more likely to move, if anyone needs to at all.

Last season, Johansson skated mostly on the second line with Kuznetsov and Troy Brouwer, posting a career-best 53.1 percent shot attempt rate at even strength, and also served as the goal line option on the power play, often tasked with bringing pucks into the offensive zone. He logged the first 82-game season of his career, but only managed one goal and three assists during 14 playoff appearances.

The Capitals hold roughly $470,000 in available salary cap space, according to, but that includes three goaltenders, one of whom — either Justin Peters at $950,000 or Philipp Grubauer at $750,000 — won’t begin the season on the active NHL roster, thereby allowing their salaries to come off the cap hit. Teams can also rise 10 percent above the salary ceiling, but must return below it before the regular season begins. MacLellan has publicly stated an interest in exploring third-line center options, but depending on the contract, it’s unlikely Washington can take on more salary without moving some out.