Restricted free agent forward Marcus Johansson filed for player-elected arbitration, mediation for his next contract with the Washington Capitals, before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, while defenseman Dmitry Orlov chose not to do so.
First, a brief explainer: Since Johansson and Orlov have both accrued enough NHL experience, according to the collective bargaining agreement’s chart for judging such matters, and are still restricted free agents, they both have player-elected arbitration rights. Arbitration hearings happen when third-party intervention is needed to settle a contract dispute between a team and a restricted free agent, and filing effectively sets a firm deadline for negotiations.
Hearings will happen sometime between July 20 and Aug. 4 in Toronto, but in many cases, they’re not necessary. Negotiations will typically continue after filing for arbitration; there were 25 arbitration filings last summer, but just eight arbitration hearings were actually held. Of those, just three cases required a ruling from the arbitrator that was then honored by the team.
The Capitals went to arbitration with Johansson and goaltender Braden Holtby last summer, and Holtby and Washington agreed to a five-year, $30.5 million deal prior to the arbitration verdict. Johansson’s one-year deal worth $3.75 million was one of the three that did require a ruling and was then honored by the team, and if Johansson and the Capitals need an arbitration ruling again, then it would be for a one-year deal and Johansson would be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of it.
General Manager Brian MacLellan has indicated an uneasiness about what a one-year arbitration ruling for Johansson would look like this time around, as he has some favorable comparables. An arbitrator awarded Johansson $3.75 million after a breakout season, when he finished with 20 goals and 27 assists and played in every game. He maintained that production last season with 17 goals and 29 assists in 74 games.
One possible comparison is Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, who has point totals slightly below Johansson’s for the last two seasons and received a six-year extension with an average annual value of $4.5 million in April. Florida’s Reilly Smith scored just four more points than Johansson did last season and is a year younger, and he just signed a five-year extension with an average annual value of $5 million.
“He has decent stats that, you know, would favor a certain number, and we have a value that we put on him,” MacLellan said. “It’s just coming together on that number.”
Re-signing Orlov and Johansson is high on the Capitals’ priority list, as they’ve had a quiet free agency to save enough salary cap space to bring back both players. According to generalfanager.com, Washington has about $8 million to spend, with Johansson expected to receive more than half of that.
What does it mean that Orlov has opted not to file for player-elected arbitration? It could mean he has a deal in the works, and it’s close to being done, or there could be concern from his side that his most-recent season wouldn’t be looked at favorably by an arbitrator. The latter is unlikely after Orlov played in every game last season and scored eight goals and 21 assists, though he missed the entire 2014-15 because of a wrist injury.
The deadline for club-elected arbitration is July 6 at 5 p.m., and those are rare. According to generalfanager.com, there have been just 17 club-elected arbitrations since 2006, and the Capitals have gone that route just once, with Karl Alzner in 2013. As is often the case with either player- or club-elected arbitration, a settlement was reached with Alzner before the hearing. If the Capitals did file for arbitration with Orlov, then Orlov would be able to choose the term in either a one- or two-year deal. If they don’t, negotiations will just continue.
While there’s potential for Johansson to receive a contract with term, it’s likely Orlov’s next deal will be a bridge contract for one or two years.
“There’s always progress, discussions going on,” MacLellan said on Saturday. “It never seems to go as quick as you like it. But yeah, we’re working towards it.”