At his busy summer winds down and vacation beckons for him and the rest of the National Hockey League, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan reflected on the final box checked on his offseason list. Friday evening, some 55 hours after his initial arbitration hearing ended, forward Marcus Johansson was awarded a one-year contract worth $3.75 million, effectively solidifying the roster for the upcoming campaign. They will have a backup goaltending battle to settle, a depth forward to choose and internal competitions to decide.

Otherwise…

“We’re exploring a couple things,” MacLellan said on a teleconference, “but I would say we’re done for now.”

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The process of re-signing Johansson, who parlayed his first career 20-goal season in 2014-15 into a sizable raise from his previous $2 million-per-year deal, followed a different course than that of goaltender Braden Holtby, MacLellan said. MacLellan said that, while the Capitals struggled to find “apples-to-apples” comparisons in arbitration for Holtby, both sides wanted a long-term agreement. Eventually, in between the hearing and the ruling, they found middle ground at five years, $30.5 million.

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With Johansson, however, MacLellan said the Capitals “wanted to pursue a longer-term deal,” but had “differences from the get-go in the value” of Johansson’s services. Though finding comparable skaters for arbitration proved easier with Johansson, the gap in money prohibited reaching a deal before the third party issued her ruling. MacLellan said he “talked a couple times” with agent Marc Levine during breaks at the hearing and afterward, but nothing more came to fruition.

“Part of it was on our part,” MacLellan said Monday. “We wanted to see a couple of these guys who came in that we had slotted in the same market place as Marcus was.”

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The one-year term ensures Johansson will return to restricted free agency next summer, unless the Capitals lock him down in the interim. For now, MacLellan envisioned the 24-year-old – Johansson will turn 25 on Oct. 6, before the regular season begins – filling a similar role as he did under Coach Barry Trotz last season, skating on the top power-play unit and challenging for a top-six spot.

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The offseason additions of Justin Williams (via free agency) and T.J. Oshie (from St. Louis via trade), however, created a jammed top-six situation. Depending on the health of center Nicklas Backstrom, who only recently began skating after having arthroscopic hip surgery in May, five of the six spots could be filled entering the season opener, leaving only a vacancy at second-line left wing, where Johansson and Andre Burakovsky are expected to jockey during camp.

“We just have a deeper top six and you’re going to have to play well and it’ll be hard to keep your job there,” MacLellan said. “He’s going to have to play well from the start. Same with Andre. Andre’s got to win the job if he wants to play in the top six.”

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As a follow-up to his career season – Johansson also had 47 points, played 82 games, attempted 31 more shots on goal than he ever had and posted a 53.1 percent even-strength shot differential – MacLellan hoped Johansson would strengthen his defensive game, even suggesting he could help fill the penalty-killing void left by the departures of Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Eric Fehr, who respectively ranked second, fourth and six in shorthanded ice time among forwards.

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“I think we expect his game to evolve, become a better all-around player, become better at everything,” MacLellan said. “I think we want him to evolve into a better all-around two-way player. He has the potential to be offensive and defensive, but he’s a young guy and he’s improving.”

This summer, seven restricted free agents appeared in Toronto for the lengthy arbitration process, a stark increase from last year, when only one of 20 player-elected cases actually required a hearing. Of those seven, the Capitals were the only team to enter the meeting room twice. Like four others, Holtby settled once the hearing ended. And like Ottawa’s Alex Chaisson, Johansson found resolution through an emailed brief.

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“I’m not sure why it happened,” MacLellan said. “In our cases, the negotiations kind of stalled at certain valuation points and it didn’t seem it was moving forward. So it seemed to be necessary that we went to that stage to get people to focus on where they’re at negotiation-wise. I thought for our case, both our cases, it was an effective tool to get deals done, and maybe that’s what’s going on with everyone else too.”

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