With three days remaining before the start of the NHL arbitration process, 12 of the 23 cases filed on July 5 have been settled before going to a hearing. Will Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, who are scheduled for arbitration hearings with the Capitals on July 23 and 29 in Toronto, be next?
“Nothing to comment on at this point other than we are preparing for the arbitration hearing on July 29,” Johansson’s agent, Marc Levine, told CSNwashington.com in an email.
A message left for Holtby’s agent, David Kaye, went unreturned on Friday.
Holtby, 25, is believed to be seeking a long-term contract with an average annual salary of $6.5 million or more. The Caps are believed to be offering in the neighborhood of $5.5 million per season. Holtby earned $2 million last season.
Johansson, 24, is believed to be seeking more than $4 million, while the Caps appear to want a cap hit closer to $3 million to $3.5 million range. Johansson earned $2.175 million last season.
Arbitration cases are heard by independent arbitrators and rulings must be made within 48 hours of the hearing, with both parties permitted to negotiate up until a ruling is made. Since Holtby and Johansson elected to go to arbitration, the Capitals can decide on a one- or two-year award. The Caps also have the right to walk away from any award above $3.8 million per year.
An arbitrator can give an award requested by the player, requested by the team, or come to his or her own amount. All travel costs to and from Toronto are the responsibility of the two parties (player/team) and the cost of the arbitrator is divided between the two sides.
Going to arbitration could handcuff the Capitals, who currently have about $11 million in cap space, assuming recently signed forwards Zach Sill and Chris Brown begin the season in AHL Hershey.
If an arbitrator awards Holtby $6.5 million and Johansson $4.5 million the Caps would be slightly above the NHL salary cap of $71.4 million. Teams have until the start of the regular season to get below the cap. Caps GM Brian MacLellan has said he would like to enter the 2015-16 season with a $1 million salary cushion.
MacLellan has also said he’s prepared to go to arbitration with Holtby and Johansson. If that happens, Holtby’s agent likely would point out that his client finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting last season, behind Montreal’s Carey Price, who averages $6.5 million a season, and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, who averages $7 million a season. (Devan Dubnyk, who finished third in Vezina voting, has a cap hit of $4.3 million).
Kaye might also point out that Holtby’s career numbers are comparable to Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who carries a cap hit of $7.425 million, and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov, who’s at $6 million.
The Caps likely would counter by saying Holtby’s body of work – he’s been an NHL starter for two seasons – is not as large as any of the goalies used as comparables.
Of the 12 cases that have settled before their hearings, the one most relevant to Johansson would be Arizona Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker, 25, who agreed to a one-year, $3.75 million contract. Boedker had 14 goals and 14 assists in 45 games with the Coyotes last season and in 383 NHL games he has 67 goals, 107 assists and 174 points.
By comparison, Johansson had 20 goals and 27 assists in 82 games last season and in 345 NHL games he has 61 goals, 125 assists and 186 points.
Those numbers would suggest Johansson’s value would be at least $4 million.