With arbitration hearings in the NHL being rare occurrences, Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson appears poised to become the unique player that goes through the process twice. Players or teams have filed for arbitration 307 times since 2006, but a hearing has been needed just 42 times, according to generalfanager.com, as a deal between player and team is usually reached before the mediation is needed.
Johansson was one of three players last summer who was awarded his contract through an arbitration, and if he and the Capitals don’t negotiate a deal prior to his July 20 hearing, he’ll become the first player since 2006 (as far back as the arbitration tracker goes) to go through the process twice. With both sides still apart on terms less than a week before the hearing, it seems likely that Johansson’s next contract will again be determined by an arbitrator, barring an 11th-hour settlement.
General Manager Brian MacLellan “and I have tried quite a few times to see if we can talk about something longer term,” said Johansson’s agent, J.P. Barry. “We really haven’t been successful on any attempts of sort of a longer-term negotiation. It could be just be the cap and different views of what’s going. So then obviously, we have to turn around and deal with our arbitration case.”
Barry said he intends to talk with the Capitals again after they exchange pre-arbitration briefs that include what salary each side is seeking for a one-year deal and before the hearing takes place. In some circumstances, a settlement is reached after the hearing takes place but before the verdict, as was the case for goaltender Braden Holtby last season.
Johansson was awarded a one-year deal worth $3.75 million in an arbitration hearing last season, which was then honored by Washington. If Johansson and the Capitals need an arbitration ruling again, then it would again be for a one-year deal and Johansson would be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of it.
Because Johansson is just a year away from unrestricted free agency, Barry could argue those UFA seasons are worth more, especially when pursuing a long-term deal. The Capitals might contend that because Johansson’s point production last season was almost identical to what it was during the 2014-15 season (46 points in 2015-16 vs. 47 the year before), his monetary worth hasn’t increased much in the year since the arbitrator’s ruling, though Johansson’s side could then point to market forces driving the price up and there being value in consistent production and games played.
MacLellan has indicated an uneasiness about what a one-year arbitration ruling for Johansson would look like this time around, as the player has some favorable comparables. The $3.75 million ruling came 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, raising his points per game while also showing versatility in playing both wing and center. In the postseason, he had two goals and five assists.
“He has decent stats that, you know, would favor a certain number, and we have a value that we put on him,” MacLellan said earlier this month. “It’s just coming together on that number.”
One possible comparison is Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, who has point totals slightly below Johansson’s for the past two seasons and received a six-year extension with an average annual value of $4.5 million in April. Kadri will make $5 million in the first two years of his deal with the salary decreasing for the remainder of the term.
According to generalfanager.com, Washington has about $8 million left in salary cap space, and it has also yet to re-sign restricted free agent defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who did not elect for arbitration. The Capitals would have the option to walk away within 48 hours from the arbitration verdict, but that’s an unpleasant end for both sides. The Capitals don’t get any return on an asset, and Johansson faces unrestricted free agency late in the summer.
In an arbitration hearing, each side gets 90 minutes to present its case, which includes the initial argument and the rebuttal, with additional time allowed if the party arguing second has reason for an additional rebuttal.
Allowed evidence includes official statistics (both offensive and defensive), injuries, “overall contribution of the player to the competitive success or failure of his club in the preceding season” and the salaries of other NHL players considered comparable, according to the collective bargaining agreement.
“We definitely have a gap on how we see free agency,” Barry said. “We don’t really agree on sort of the valuations or the comparables out there for free agency. I don’t know how far apart we are on the arbitration. We’ll probably start grinding on that now, because with the arbitration process both sides are preparing a case. I think the next step will be to just talk about the one-year deal.”