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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Re-signing Marcus Johansson

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Re-signing Marcus Johansson

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign.

The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Re-signing Marcus Johansson

Just one year after going all the way through the arbitration process, the Caps and Marcus Johansson looked poised to do it all over again this summer.

Johansson tallied 46 points in 2015-16, just one point shy of the 47 he posted the season before. No doubt he sees himself as a top-six player, but he will likely find himself playing wing on the third line. So for the second year, the Caps had a different value of Johansson than what he could find on the open market.

Both sides began talking seriously on the day of the hearing, howver, and Johansson agreed to a three-year deal worth $13.75 million which carries a yearly cap hit of $4.583 million.


“I'm just happy we could figure it out in the end,” Johansson said after narrowly avoiding arbitration. “To be able to be part of this team for three more years, that's important to me. I think both parties are happy with it. There's obviously the cap in the NHL and you have to find a way to stay under it and we finally came to the agreement that made both parties happy.”

Johansson is one of the most polarizing figures in the organization when it comes to the fans. There are two main reasons for this. First, when he first came into the NHL, he was touted as the solution to the Caps’ hole at center on the second line.

Did he live up to that billing? No. Johansson was not able to cement himself in that position—proving to be more effective as a winger than a center—and joined a long line of failed “solutions” for the position including Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Ribeiro, Jason Arnott, Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger and Michael Nylander.

The second reason Johansson is so heavily criticized is his perceived lack of physicality. While it would be fair to say that the physical aspect of the game has never been his strong suit, it would also be fair to say Johansson was noticeably more physical in 2015-16 than we had previously seen. No one is going to mistake him for Tom Wilson, but he at least showed improvement.

In terms of production, Johansson has proven himself to be a 40+ point player with 44, 47 and 46 points in his last three seasons. With Jason Chimera’s departure, Johansson is now most likely the fastest player on the team. As speed is so important in today’s NHL, that certainly ups Johansson’s value.

Johansson was also one of the few players willing to screen and crash the net this season, one of the few noticeable weaknesses of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Caps team. Again, that is not his strongest suit, but it should be noted that he was at least willing to fight for the dirty goals.

Grade: B+

Yes, I know this one is going to spark some disagreement.

Johansson may not be Washington’s favorite player, but he does clearly provide the Caps with speed and offensive production. The fact that he can also play wing and center is also a valuable asset. When Jay Beagle was out with injury last season, Johansson played well in his place at third line center. That kind of flexibility brings value that most NHL players do not.

Let’s also consider where the team stands and what Johansson’s role will be next season. The Caps are in it to win it. With several contracts expiring and several prospects nearly ready to become full-time NHL players, this team may look very different next year meaning this may be the last year that championship window is open for Washington.

With that in mind, the Caps need players who provide value now. Johansson most likely will play wing on the third line next season. Even his staunchest critics have to admit that having talent like that on the third line is an asset.

Does it come with a hefty price tag? Perhaps. When comparing his contract to other players with a comparable cap hit, Johansson’s production is a bit underwhelming. Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers is signed through 2019 with a $4.5 million cap hit and tallied 59, 49 and 61 points over the last three seasons. Clearly Johansson does not stack up to that comparable.

The Caps were not going to walk away from Johansson in the offseason, however, because there is zero benefit to walking away from a player of his caliber for nothing in return. Of course they were going to re-sign him because it would have been foolish not to.

Is his cap hit a bit high? Yes, but Brian MacLellan was able to sign him and still add Lars Eller and Brett Connolly while keeping the rest of the roster largely intact.

Plus, his contract is not immovable if they decide to move on after this season. Johansson has a modified no-trade clause after the first season of the deal, but he can only name five teams in which he does not wish to be traded. It also does not offer him automatic protection in next year’s expansion draft.

With the Caps still gunning for the Stanley Cup, this team is better for having a player like Johansson on the third line. If after this season the team decides his value is greater as a trade asset, then moving him becomes an option thanks to his multi-year deal. For now, however, it makes all the sense in the world to have a player like Johansson back for at least one more run at a championship.


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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Trading for Lars Eller

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Trading for Lars Eller

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Trading for Lars Eller

Throughout the playoff series against Pittsburgh, one thing was abundantly clear: the Caps needed more scoring depth in the bottom six.

The Caps have the skill to match any team in the NHL on the top two lines, but it was the Penguins’ third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel that truly tipped the scales in their favor.

No other team had that kind of scoring depth.

In their never-ending quest for the Stanley Cup, the Caps needed more offense from their bottom two lines.


Jay Beagle played well last season and though he wants to play on the third line, he’s a better option on the fourth. If given the choice between an average third line center or a great fourth line center, the choice is clear. Strengthen the fourth line and bring in someone who can bolster the third.

Brian MacLellan did just that by trading for Lars Eller.

Eller’s time in Montreal got off to a rocky start as he was traded from St. Louis to the Canadiens in the deal that sent hero netminder (and Capitals' playoff nemesis) Jaroslav Halak out of Montreal. He then had to deal with a constantly changing offensive lineup that at times saw him frequently matched with different linemates.

There were even times he moved from center to wing.

Despite flashes of brilliance, Eller has tallied 30 points only once in his career and has never scored more than 16 goals in a season. Yet, his offensive production is still better than that of Beagle and it should go up with a better offensive lineup and the stability he should get in Washington. He is also a very good possession player and managed to maintain solid possession numbers in Montreal despite shuffling through linemates.

Grade: B+

Eller’s highlights and stats seem to tell two different stories.

When you watch him, he looks like a 20 goal scorer. It’s surprising that he hasn’t had more offensive production given his talent, but that may have a lot to do with the instability of Montreal’s lineup.

Washington will be different. Eller was brought in to be the third line center and, barring injury, that’s exactly what he will be. The lines will shuffle now and again with the normal ups and downs of an 82 game season, but he will see more stability in Washington than he ever had in Montreal. He will certainly not be asked to play wing any time soon.

Eller is an offensive threat with fantastic stick-handling abilities. He drives possession and has good positioning even without the puck on his stick. He checks off every box on the Caps’ wish list but two: speed and cost.

It would not be fair to call Eller slow, but no one would say that Eller has blazing speed either. Heading into the offseason, the Caps wanted to get faster in response to the speed they saw from Pittsburgh. Eller does not make them a faster team.

That’s not the end of the world. The Caps are clearly a better team offensively with Eller on the third line and Beagle on the fourth. What really bumps this grade down, however, is what it cost to get him.

Two second-round draft picks is high for a player you’re planning on plugging into the third line. Montreal didn’t help matters by trading for Andrew Shaw on the very same day for the exact same cost, two second-round draft picks.

As good as Eller is and as good as he will be with the Caps, Shaw is better and younger. Eller’s cost seemed high initially and that was confirmed by the fact that the same price netted Montreal and even better return.

No one will care about those draft picks if Eller proves to be the key piece in a Capitals Cup run, but that loss will sting the next two years come draft time.


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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Signing Brett Connolly

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Signing Brett Connolly

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Signing Brett Connolly

The Caps entered free agency with very few needs, but one need they did have was for a right wing for the fourth line who could cycle in and out of the lineup.

While teams threw their money around as free agency began, the Caps were very quiet, looking for need and potential. They found it in the form of Brett Connolly.

Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Connolly was a the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft. Despite some good early play in his professional career, he was soon overshadowed by the Lightning’s impressive crop of young talent. Injuries further hampered him in Tampa and eventually in Boston.


Despite his struggles, the Caps see the same potential in him that led him to be drafted so high.

“He's got good size, he skates well, he's got good hands, he shoots the puck well, he just hasn't seemed to put it together yet consistently,” MacLellan said.

MacLellan sees more from Tom Wilson going forward which will mean a promotion from the fourth line to the third. That leaves a spot open on the fourth which Connolly will presumably fill. The Caps, however, are prepared to let his play determine that.

“He could play anywhere,” MacLellan said. “I mean it's up to him. We told him, you've got to come in and you've got to earn it. You've got to show the coaches. You've got to gain some respect and we'll see where you fit in. I mean he could play third line, fourth line, it's up to him.”

Grade: A

Whenever a team decides to walk away from a player player, it’s important to replace him with something better. Otherwise, what was the point? The Caps chose not to re-sign Michael Latta, but instead brought in a player with a much higher ceiling in Connolly.

This move is low-risk, high-reward. Seriously, where is the downside here? Connolly is signed for one year at $850,000. Despite his struggles, he is only 24 and when healthy has demonstrated he still has plenty of skill. If he does play well, he becomes a restricted agent at the end of the season and the Caps can easily retain his rights.

If he continues to fail to live up to that potential, it’s not as if the Caps will have a major hole on their top line. The Caps can plug in Stanislav Galiev or any of the several prospects waiting for their shot at the NHL and not miss a beat. Then they can cut Connolly loose at the end of the season.

Let’s be realistic here. Sometimes when fans see where a player was drafted, it’s easy to begin thinking that he will suddenly emerge as that top-tier player. It’s doubtful that Connolly is going to suddenly emerge as a top line winger, but he has the potential to become a solid player.

If he doesn’t, well it was worth a shot.