The Boston Bruins’ quest for the Stanley Cup is led by its star players like Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. No team, however, can go deep in the playoffs without help from its depth forwards and perhaps no one in that role has been more impressive this postseason than former Capital Marcus Johansson.
Johansson was acquired by Boston at the trade deadline and has had four goals and seven assists in 19 playoff games. Beyond the stats, he has looked fantastic on the ice with some slick stick work and great passing to go with his speed. He was named the second star of the game in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final despite not recording a point and has proven to be a major threat every time he is on the ice.
Johansson’s play is important not just because he has helped his team come within two wins of the Stanley Cup, but also because he is about to become an unrestricted free agent and is playing for his next deal. This series provides the biggest stage for him to showcase his talents and teams are reportedly taking notice, including Washington.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic wrote Monday, “Speaking of the Caps, my sense is that they’ve got Johansson on their radar if he’s not priced himself out of their orbit.”
For many Caps fans, this is welcome news. Johansson was a well-liked player during his time in Washington and you can’t help but feel for him after watching him get traded away the season before Washington won the Cup. That stinks for a player who was a big part of the team for so long.
Beyond the nostalgic point of view, however, you have to ask if a Johansson reunion would make sense.
Brett Connolly, Carl Hagelin and Devante Smith-Pelly could all be on their way out of Washington as UFAs while Jakub Vrana, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitrij Jaskin and Chandler Stephenson are RFAs. The Caps will not lose all of those players, but the tight salary cap situation dictates that it will lose some if not most. Considering the bottom-six was held to only five goals in the team’s first round series against Carolina and two of those goals came from Connolly, yes, depth scoring is going to be a major area of need this offseason. If you believe like I do that T.J. Oshie would benefit from a move to the third line, Johansson seems like an ideal fit as a middle-six player who could potentially play on the second or third line.
Now here comes the tricky part. Can general manager Brian MacLellan make it work?
Much has been written already about Washington’s salary cap situation, but here’s a summary: It’s not great.
With the salary cap projected to be $83 million next season, the Caps are about $10 million under the cap with eight forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract. A team will ideally have 13 forwards and seven defensemen.
The bottom line is that Washington has a lot of holes to fill and not a lot of money to do it with. Now let’s look at what Johansson might cost.
Hockey-Graphs released a free agent contract projection in May which gives Johansson a four-year deal with a cap hit of $4.661 million per year. This is an estimate and, as it came out in mid-May, Johansson’s price tag may well have gone up. But let’s use this as a starting point for right now.
Using CapFriendly’s armchair GM tool, adding Johansson to the roster with a $4.661 million cap hit leaves the Caps with about $5.4 million in cap space with only nine forwards and six defensemen. Considering the team will still need to sign Jakub Vrana and he will take up $3 to 4 million of that just on a bridge deal, that will not be enough money to fill out the rest of the roster. So the first thing to note is that the addition of Johansson would force the Caps to move salary.
The player on everyone’s mind when it comes to a possible trade this offseason is Matt Niskanen. Let’s forget about the possible return of a Niskanen trade for now and just take his cap hit off the books. That gives Washington just over $11 million in space to use.
The next step is to re-sign Vrana and RFA defenseman Christian Djoos, both of whom look like locks to return. As we used the Hockey-Graphs projection as the model for Johansson, let’s use it again for Vrana and Djoos. That gives Vrana a two-year deal with a cap hit of $3,157,816 and Djoos a two-year deal at $966,531.
The Caps are left with about $7 million to sign three forwards and a defenseman. That is certainly doable considering the caliber of player the team will be looking for at that point.
As you can see, however, the margins are razor thin for Washington and that makes this scenario wholly unlikely.
The cap hit of Johansson’s current contract is $4,583,333 so the projection actually predicts his next deal will have a lower cap hit. Considering how he has played this postseason and that he is only 28, that is not going to happen. If there is any sort of bidding war among other teams, Johansson will very quickly price himself out of the range the Caps can afford to pay him. This projection also has Vrana lower than I would predict as I think he will get closer to $4 million than $3 million. Just that little extra money for Vrana could be enough to tip the scales and force the Caps out of a possible Johansson signing.
The point is that yes, it makes sense that Washington would have interest in Johansson. He is exactly the type of player the team needs. Yes, signing him would not be impossible if MacLellan is willing to move salary to do so. But the reality is a Johansson reunion remains unlikely. To afford him would almost certainly mean losing Connolly, Hagelin, Burakovsky and Niskanen (likely via trade) and even then, Johansson’s excellent postseason performance should earn him more than the team can afford to spend considering how many other players the team will need to sign to fill out the roster.
There is room under the cap for Washington to add a middle-six forward, but perhaps not one who is showcasing just how good he is in the Stanley Cup Final.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS
- Re-live the Cup: Watch a rerun of the parade and Game 5 on NBCSW
- The Right Shift: Why Oshie going to third line could help everyone
- Stock Rising: Former Cap Marcus Johansson's price tag increasing