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.
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“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.
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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