Now that Marcus Johansson has been signed to a 1 year contract at 3.75 million dollars, what do the Capitals do with him? It’s not a horrible cap hit but it is higher than I think we wanted to go. Can the Capitals afford the cap hits of both Johansson and Brooks Laich on the 3rd line? Would the team be better off with a legitimate 3rd line center for closer to 2 million a year and Laich on a wing? The cap space gained could certainly be valuable at the trade deadline. It really comes down to just 3 options for the 2015-2016 season.
Option 1: Do Nothing
The first option is pretty straight forward and not without precedence. Marcus is a luxury in the same way Mike Green was a luxury this past season. History says Brian MacLellan isn’t afraid to hang on to expensive luxuries if he doesn’t get the price he’s looking for in a trade package. The argument against this option will come down to how Johansson’s ability to contribute on the 3rd line. If he’s productive, he’s a fantastic option to hold onto incase someone gets hurt in the top six. If on the other hand he doesn’t fit what Barry Trotz wants to see from his 3rd line (an open question), he’s just an expensive insurance policy, who’s trade value may never be higher than it is right now. While the Capitals would still hold his rights as an RFA for another year, will a year on the 3rd line, even a good one, increase or decrease his trade value?
Option 2: Trade Him Now
There is a good case to be made that Johansson’s trade value might never be higher than it is right now for the Capitals. Marcus has taken his hits from Capitals fans, but around the league he’s viewed as a legitimate top 6 forward. If he’s on the market, we can be assured there will be interest. With a $3.75 million dollar cap hit and a year left as a restricted free agent, a lot of teams would love to plug him into their lineup. It really comes down to what can the Capitals get in return? My best guess is we’d be looking for a legit 3rd line center, and a pick or a prospect as a bare minimum. Given Johansson is a former 1st rounder and performing at a top 6 level, I would think the Capitals would want at least a 2nd round pick in addition to a 3rd line center. Can they get that? There are some bottom tier teams with the picks, the prospects, and the cap space to make a deal.
Option 3: Trade Him At The Deadline
I think this is the least likely scenario. If Johansson is not dealt before the season, we’ll know long before the trade deadline how he’s working out on the 3rd line. If he doesn’t fit, I expect a move to happen well before the deadline. The cap space opened up as part of a deal is more valuable before the start of the season and early in the season. We expect the Capitals to be buyers not sellers at the deadline, it just doesn’t make sense to keep Johansson until the deadline unless you intend to keep him the entire season.
So what happens?
I expect MacLellan will look at trade options before the season starts. He’ll want a good return and he won’t make any move unless it’s a good deal for the Washington Capitals. Johansson is good trade bait to acquire the 3rd line center we need and there will doubtless be better options in the trade market than we could find this late in free agency. It’s anyones guess if things fall into place, but I expect the Capitals will explore all options.
Assuming we don’t find a trade partner early on, Johansson will likely start on the 3rd line. They could choose to showcase him in the top 6, but given his history, I don’t think that makes much sense. More likely we’ll see how well he fits on the 3rd line and make a trade before the new year if it’s not going well.
If we haven’t found a deal before the season begins or early on, I think we hold onto him the entire season. The only way I see him moved at the deadline is if a deal is simply too good to pass up, or we need the cap space for another addition. Moving Johansson for cap space would tell me that Brian MacLellan believes we’re one piece away from winning the Stanley Cup, and trading Johansson gets us that piece.
By Ernie Mudd