So, Marcus Johansson and the Capitals have submitted their briefs to an independent arbitrator for Wednesday’s scheduled hearing in Toronto and – surprise, surprise – the two sides are miles apart, with Johansson seeking a salary of $4.75 million and the Caps seeking a one-year award of $3 million.
As we learned last week with Braden Holtby, who asked for $8 million in a one-year award and accepted a five-year deal worth $6.1 million per season, the threat of an arbitrator’s ruling kick-started real negotiations and resulted in a fair deal for both parties.
Now that the parameters have been set for Johansson, can the two sides avoid arbitration altogether and come to a compromise before Wednesday’s hearing? Or, will they present each of their cases and let an arbitrator make a ruling by sometime Friday afternoon?
That all depends on how much the Capitals value Johansson.
Unlike Holtby, who has established himself as one of the cornerstones of the franchise, Johansson is a complementary player – albeit a skilled one – who is coming off a career-high 20 goals and 47 points but could not hold onto the role of top-line right wing.
With newcomers T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams threatening to eat up some of Johansson’s minutes, and Andre Burakovsky penciled in above Johansson as a second-line left wing, the Capitals may have more leverage with the 24-year-old Swede than they did with Holtby.
And that could mean they are more willing to go to arbitration.
Taken by the Caps with the 24th overall selection of the 2009 draft, Johansson rebounded nicely from a subpar 2013-14 season by recording career highs in goals (20), points (47), shots (138) and games (82). He also did it while averaging more than a minute less of ice time per game (16:28) than he did the year before (17:32).
Johansson’s agent, Marc Levine, did not return messages left for him on Monday. He could use a pair of recent signings to help support Johansson’s market value. On July 6, the Maple Leafs signed 24-year-old forward Nazem Kadri to a one-year, $4.1 million contract. And on July 20, after presenting their cases to an arbitrator, the Nashville Predators agreed to a five-year, $21.25 million contract with 25-year-old forward Craig Smith that averages $4.25 million.
Kadri is coming of an 18-goal, 39-point season and has 64 goals and 152 points in 250 career NHL games. Smith recorded 23 goals and 44 points last season and has 65 goals and 144 points in 277 career NHL games.
By comparison, Johansson has 61 goals and 186 points in 345 games for the Capitals, so it would reason an arbitrator could award him more than $4.25 million.
In all likelihood, the Capitals will not want a third-line left wing eating up more than $4.25 million in cap space next season, especially when they are currently $4.22 million under the cap. (Not to mention the fact Brooks Laich has two years and $9 million remaining on his contract).
Unlike negotiations with Holtby, the Capitals do not appear willing to give Johansson any more than two years in his next contract, which would take him to unrestricted free agency at the age of 26. They are more likely to want to settle on a one-year deal that keeps him under $4 million.
If the case goes to arbitration and a ruling, which must be rendered within 48 hours, the Capitals have the right to walk away from an award of $3.8 million or better. But in doing so the Caps would lose Johansson to free agency and get nothing in return except additional salary space that, theoretically, could be used to sign or acquire another forward to replace him.
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