The Carlson Crossroads: Approaching the Intersection of Family Street and Business Way

It’s difficult to dispute. He’s loved by most of Caps Nation and a fan-favorite of many. Heck, he’s “Captain America”, for Pete’s sake. During his time in Washington, John Carlson, a first-round draft pick in 2008 (27th overall), has become a fan favorite and vital thread in Washington’s hockey fabric.  However, Carlson and the Capitals are rapidly approaching one of sports’ most challenging crossroads.  The 6’3” defenseman, who turns 28 next month, is in the final year of his current Capitals contract (six-years, $3,966,667 per year) and is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. 

Just the sound of “Carlson” and “final year” might make many Caps fans shake. Or you might be thinking, “It’s December, why are we even talking about this right now?” Well, it was announced this week that the Capitals and the Carlson camp would be meeting in the coming days to present initial desired contract parameters. In essence, this may be where things begin to go one way or the other. If the Carlson camp presents a high number and long-term, the Capitals could begin to plan for a new direction. The same could be said for Carlson, if the Capitals present a low number and shorter term. However, It could also be a good thing, if both sides are talking similar money and length of contract.

The Carlson Family Perspective
In the time since signing his current contract, Carlson has settled in, made the D.C. area his year-round home and started a family. He married his girlfriend Gina, had his first child Lucca, and is expecting a second child this spring. Simply put, “Captain America” is living the American Dream. But that dream costs money.

If there was ever a real chance of the Capitals seeing a true “hometown discount”, this is probably it. Carlson’s wife has roots and family in the DC area, and the Carlsons have settled in comfortably within the community.

From Carlson’s perspective, this will probably be the last, but biggest contract in his professional career. You can’t blame anyone with a family and a narrowing career window for exploring the market and seeking out the most lucrative of financial opportunities. It’s just makes good sense for him and his family. (See Mike Green and Karl Alzner).

Finally, like all players, Carlson is likely wanting to sign with a team that has a chance at winning it all. Does Carlson feel, deep down inside, his best chance is in Washington? Nobody but Carlson knows the answer to that.

The Capitals Perspective
Carlson has been a top-tier defenseman for most of his career in Washington. Sure, on occasion his play (and shots) may have wavered off point a bit, but for the most part, the consensus amongst the Capitals’ faithful and hockey media is that he’s been a significant asset to the Capitals.

The Capitals’ quandary: Do you spend $7 mill/seven-years (+/-) on a quality, middle-aged, (but much-loved) defenseman, when you’ve invested a half-dozen draft picks on quality defensive prospects? Why draft them? Does it make sense to commit long-term to Carlson, with so much youth waiting in the wings?

Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs (just to name a few), all look to hold excellent potential, with Johansen and Siegenthaler possibly making a run at the Caps’ roster next fall. Hobbs is not far behind them, but suffered an unfortunate injury this season. Simply put, the Capitals’ depth at the defensive position is second only to its goaltending depth.

You can buy a lot of offense with that kind of cash. Adding one, possibly two second or third-line forwards sounds mighty tasty. You might be opening the proverbial “window” of opportunity again with those kind of additions.

On the flip side, Carlson is a proven, solid defenseman. There is no waiting, development time or uncertainty with regards to his position on the ice. You can ink-in his name in the lineup for most of the length of the coming contract. There is a lot to be said for that.

Additionally, there are early rumors that the salary cap could be increased to as much as $80 million next season. That’s possibly $2-3 million more of an advance than the increases in previous years. It remains to be seen, but all of the extra cash could go a long way in re-signing Carlson.

From a business sense, there is also value in re-signing Carlson as there will be a hard return on the financial investment. The fan favorite is also a decent revenue-producer, with regards to jersey and other merchandise sales.

As with any contractual decisions of this nature, it comes down to money, or more specifically, “hockey value”. In the salary cap era it’s all about “value”, and the rate of return on your dollar. Replacing good, and sometimes even great players with financially better alternatives is part of the process. (See Jakub Vrana and Justin Williams)

The Intersection
The “crossroads” wasn’t always this ugly. The salary cap has made it so, and in a way, it’s the fans that suffer the most. One thing is for certain, this will likely be one of the the most important negotiations of both John Carlson’s and General Manager Brian MacLellan’s careers, with long-lasting ramifications, good and/or bad. It’s important that both sides get it right.

In the coming weeks, we will begin to take a closer, detailed look at the specific parameters of Carlson’s next contract: estimated value and term, etc. We will also look at other expiring contracts in the coming years, and how that may or may not affect a potential Carlson contract.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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