The arbitration hearing will be for a one-year deal, and Johansson will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of it.
Johansson’s agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, said last week that he and the Capitals would likely talk again after the two sides exchanged pre-arbitration briefs and saw how far apart they are. Johansson’s $3.75 million contract for one year was an arbitration award last summer, falling roughly between the $3 million requested by Washington and the $4.75 million filed by Johansson in the pre-arbitration briefs.
With an independent arbitrator assigned to rule on a middle ground, both sides often trend in opposite directions in their requests, the team low-balling it and the player asking for more than he’s expected to receive. Simply put, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
If Johansson 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 generalfanager.com’s arbitration tracker goes) to have a hearing twice. There could be an 11th-hour settlement before the hearing, and 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.
With the Capitals offering $3.85 million, just $100,000 more than what Johansson received in arbitration last season, they 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. Johansson’s side could then point to market forces driving the price up and there being value in consistent production and games played.
General Manager Brian MacLellan “and I have tried quite a few times to see if we can talk about something longer term,” Barry said last week. “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.”
MacLellan has indicated an uneasiness about what a one-year arbitration ruling for Johansson would look like this time around, as Johansson 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.
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.
“[Johansson] 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.”
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.