The 2017-18 season has been one in which the Capitals have performed relatively above expectations, something that has been very true for defenseman John Carlson, who has stepped up and become one of the best players on the team. Earlier in the season, NoVa Caps looked at Carlson’s worthiness for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman). Several weeks later, his climbing statistics and overall performance not only make him a serious contender for the Norris, but the pending unrestricted free agent’s price tag is climbing just as quickly as his point totals.As of March 21, Carlson leads all blueliners in scoring with 61 points (Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg also has 61 points, but Carlson has more goals, so has the lead over Klingberg) in 73 games played, and his 46 assists rank fourth among rearguards. Carlson also excels in his own end, something that makes him the best potential free agent defenseman come July 1.
After two injury-shortened seasons the past two years, Carlson has rebounded in terms of his offensive production in a season the Capitals’ needed the former first-round pick to do just that. After recording a then-career-high 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, Carlson recorded just 39 and 37 points in the past two seasons. Carlson’s 55-point performance earned him a tenth place finish in Norris Trophy voting, but this season’s performance has launched No. 74 into the thick of the Norris Trophy discussion.
If Carlson were to win the Norris, it would undoubtedly give Carlson all the leverage in contract negotiations, and he is assured a nice raise from his current $3.96 million salary, something that could make re-signing him a challenging proposition for Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan, who has reiterated throughout the season his desire to retain Carlson beyond this season. The Caps currently have just $1,178,693 in available cap space, but that is likely to change with the expected rise of the salary cap in the not-too distant future. The current speculated projections have ranged from $78-82 million, which would benefit the Caps and give them some breathing room. Carlson could have a potential asking price from $6-7 million per season, and if he wins the Norris, it may not be out of the realm of possibility for him to ask for $8 million; but this is beside the point.
Carlson’s career season has come in a contract year, and has set up the 28-year old rearguard for a hefty payday, whether it be with the Capitals or another NHL team. MacLellan’s proven he is willing to invest in key players (see T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Lars Eller) and his track record of success in his four seasons at the helm have helped the Caps become a perennial contender. His desire to keep Carlson in Washington is well-documented and there should be no doubt that he will make an effort to retain the Capitals’ best defenseman. There is also no doubt that Carlson’s big year will make re-signing him a pricey proposition.
By Michael Fleetwood