There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season. There is always uncertainty when a player enters a contract year, but now add in the fact that Carlson has spent training camp not knowing who is partner is going to be.
That’s a problem considering how important this season is for Carlson plus how much the Caps will rely on him.
“Oh yeah,” Carlson said Tuesday when asked if he had thought about his contract, “But I'm not really going to think too much into that. The season hasn't even started yet.”
By now you have probably heard about how the Capitals’ roster is going to take a step back this season. With salary cap constraints due to the fact that the team had to re-sign several young players to bigger contracts plus the Vegas expansion draft, Washington saw a lot of key players depart in the offseason.
While the loss of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson hurts the offense, the real effect of the offseason’s losses can be seen on the defense.
Here is what the Capitals defensive pairs looked like heading into training camp:
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
??? - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - ???
While there are a handful of promising prospects competing for those open spots, the problem is the second pair. There is a hole in the team’s top four and the Capitals don’t have a clear top-four defenseman to plug it with. Whoever does play there, whether it be a depth veteran like Chorney or a rookie like Bowey, that player is going to lean very heavily on Carlson.
“[Carlson’s] a good enough player to adjust to whoever his partner is,” head coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday after practice, “And I think he's mature enough to bring his partner along too no matter who he's playing with, if he's a stay at home guy or a puck-moving, advanced guy who gets up the ice and doesn't have maybe as much in his game in order like [Dmitry Orlov] was a few years ago. We'll see where that plays, but Carly's a good defenseman and whoever we put him with he should be a real good pair for us.”
So in a contract year, Carlson will be relied upon to carry the second defensive pair with a partner he does not know yet. That is a lot for one player to deal with, but not totally unexpected.
“We talked about possibilities for him in the summer and we'll play it out,” Trotz said. “But he understands the situation. ... I think he understood where we are as a team, organization, the cap situation this summer.”
Carlson said he is not worried about who his partner might be and is instead focusing on on his own game instead.
“I think it just kind of makes you focus more on what you can't control versus what you can. We've got a lot of talented players. If there wasn't those talented players than maybe I'd have a different opinion, but just one of those things you'll wait and see and wait to hear what it will be.”
For now, Aaron Ness looks like the frontrunner to earn the spot on the second pair playing next to Carlson. The two have practiced together as a pair at practice both on Monday and Tuesday.
Carlson stressed that it is hard to get a feel for a defensive pairing from practice and that the coaches were unlikely to consult with him about it saying, “It's never been really like that. I'm sure they might ask for an opinion here or there, but other than that I don't make any decisions. That's all what they think is best for the team and that's their job.”
Even so, he was effusive in his praise of Ness.
“He's a great player,” Carlson said. “I've been saying that for however long he's been here.”
Regardless of who he plays with, the team needs this to be a big season for Carlson and so does he. A new contract is on the line.
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