Marcus Johansson, his agent Marc Levine and the Capitals’ management staff -- along with a team of attorneys from both sides -- spent much of this morning stating their arbitration cases in Toronto, the results of which will have a lasting impact on the Capitals’ payroll.
With Johansson seeking a one-year salary of $4.75 million and the Capitals countering with a one-year award of $3 million, the stage has been set for an arbitrator’s ruling to come down by Friday afternoon, or a settlement sometime between now and then.
Based on the Nashville Predators’ signing of forward Craig Smith to a five-year, $21.5 million contract on July 20, which carries an annual average salary of $4.25 million, Johansson could receive up to $4.5 million in an arbitration award.
The Capitals currently have roughly $4.2 million in cap space, but could clear enough room for Johansson by sending goaltender Justin Peters ($950,000) to the AHL Hershey Bears before the start of next season.
If Johansson is awarded more than $3.8 million, the Capitals would have the right to walk away from such a ruling, effectively making Johansson an unrestricted free agent. Walk-aways are only permitted in player-elected arbitration cases and they must be made within 48 hours after the conclusion of the arbitration hearing.
It is unusual for a team to walk away from an arbitration award, but it happened three times in the summer of 2010.
The Chicago Blackhawks walked away from a $2.75 million arbitration award for goaltender Antti Niemi, with Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman saying, “That number was never going to work for us. We would have had to make some other moves to free up money.”
Niemi signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Sharks and signed a four-year extension shortly thereafter.
The Atlanta Thrashers also walked away from a $2.4 million award for forward Clarke MacArthur, who went on to sign a one-year $1.1 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Buffalo Sabres waived forward Tim Kennedy after he was awarded $1 million in arbitration. Kennedy instead took a one-year, two-way contract with Florida that paid him $550,000 in NHL salary.
The issue with Johansson is not so much the award he will be given -- after all, he did finish fourth on the Capitals in scoring last season with 47 points (behind only Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson) -- but the role that is projected for him in 2015-16.
With Ovechkin and Andre Burakovsky slotted as the Caps’ first- and second-line left wings, and T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams slotted as their first- and second-line right wings, Johansson figures to start the season as a third-line left wing with centers Brooks Laich or Jay Beagle and right wing Tom Wilson.
His power-play time (2:55 per game last season, fourth on the club) could also dip because of the additions of Oshie and Williams.
Simply put, the Caps are not keen on having a third-line left wing making in the neighborhood of $4.5 million, especially with Laich having two more years on a contract that pays him that same amount.
But if the Capitals walk away from Johansson’s award, they will have nothing to show for it except the additional cap space.
It makes for an interesting upcoming 48 hours.
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