No matter what happens between now and Braden Holtby’s scheduled arbitration hearing on July 23, the 25-year-old goaltender is going to play for the Capitals next season and get paid handsomely (probably between $5.5 million and $6.5 million) to do so. The future of 24-year-old left wing Marcus Johansson is a lot more fuzzy.
Johansson has an arbitration hearing set for July 29. With five NHL seasons under his belt, Johansson is two years away from unrestricted free agency and is coming off a two-year, $4 million contract that paid him $2.175 million last season.
To retain his rights, the Caps were required to offer Johansson at least 100 percent of his 2014-15 salary, which they did, presumably at $2.175 million.
It is unclear whether the Caps made a second, more lucrative, offer to Johansson. If they did not, they may be content with letting his case go to arbitration.
Here’s where things get tricky.
If an arbitrator awards Johansson (or any other NHL player) $3,799,887 or better, the Capitals (or any other NHL team taken to arbitration by a player) can walk away from the award, making Johansson a free agent. (Last year's "walk-away" number was set at $3.5 million.)
Caps general manager Brian MacLellan is taking a wait-and-see approach on Johansson because he wants to see how the market dictates Johansson’s value.
Anaheim Ducks left wing Carl Hagelin ($2.4 million last season) is an unsigned restricted free agent who has put up similar numbers (58 goals, 72 assists, 130 points in 266 NHL games) as Johansson (61-125-186 in 345 games). But when the Rangers decided they were not willing to pay Hagelin more than $4 million, they traded him to the Ducks for Emerson Etem and a second-round pick.
The Caps, who have roughly $11 million in cap space, could find themselves in a similar predicament. If the Capitals are forced to pay Holtby more than $6 million, they almost certainly will not want to pay Johansson close to $4 million, especially if they have him slotted on a third-line behind left wings Alex Ovechkin and Andre Burakovsky.
Last year, two days before his arbitration hearing, right wing Michael Frolik avoided arbitration with the Calgary Flames by signing a one-year, $3.3 million contract. Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello beat the arbitration clock by three days when he agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
If Johansson, who is coming off a career-high 20 goals and 47 points, is awarded $3.8 million or more, the Caps could walk away from the forward and use Johansson’s allotted salary space on another player, like, say, Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak.
The Leafs appear to be set down the middle with centers Nazem Kadri, Peter Holland, Richard Panik and Shawn Matthias and are reportedly shopping Bozak, who is coming off a career-high 23 goals and 49 points.
Bozak, 29, hails from Barry Trotz’s home town of Regina, Saskatchewan and has three years remaining on a contract that pays him $4.2 million a season.
To get Bozak, the Caps probably would need to part with a roster player (Brooks Laich, Michael Latta, Jason Chimera?) and a prospect (Riley Barber, Connor Carrick?).
Take a look at the Caps’ current forward depth chart vs. one with Bozak and discuss what you would do?
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Marcus Johansson (RFA) – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Jason Chimera – Brooks Laich/Michael Latta – Stan Galiev/Jakub Vrana
Chimera/Laich – Bozak – Wilson