According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the Washington Capitals are interested in a reunion with forward Marcus Johansson, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Johansson is in the final year of a three-year contract with an average annual value of $4,583,333, which he signed with the Capitals in 2016.
Johansson was traded by the Capitals to the New Jersey Devils on July 2, 2017, in an effort to clear cap space after the team announced that they signed center Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight-year contract worth an average annual value of $7.8 million. The Devils sent second and third-round picks back to Washington.
LeBrun wrote “Speaking of the Caps, my sense is that they’ve got Johansson on their radar if he’s not priced himself out of their orbit.,” in one of his columns on Monday.
After being limited to only 29 games due to two respective injuries in 2017-18 with the Devils, the 28-year old posted 13 goals, 30 points, and a -16 rating in 58 games with the Devils and Boston Bruins in 2018-19. The Devils shipped him to Boston at the trade deadline in exchange for second and fourth-round picks in the upcoming draft.
“It was unfortunate for him with the injuries but a good player like him, he’s going to bounce back,’’ said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, one of Johansson’s best friends with the team. “He’s shown that this year, especially in the playoffs. He’s been healthy, playing as good as he can play and at an important time of the year.’’
Johansson posted 102 goals, 290 points, and a +22 rating in 501 career games with the Capitals. His best season came in 2016-17 when he notched career-highs in goals (24), points (58), and plus-minus (+25). Though, the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s best regular-season team, that year.
“That would be great [if Johansson returned to Washington].,” said Backstrom “So many things come with winning. That experience you get with going through it. You want to do it again. So every time you get a player of that caliber it’s only a good thing for teams. I wouldn’t mind if that happens.’’
After recording just a goal and three points in 10 regular season games with the Bruins, Johansson has been one of their key contributors during their run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. He has posted four goals, 11 points, and a +7 rating while playing on the third line with center Charlie Coyle, whom the Bruins also acquired at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild, and forward Danton Heinen. He has set career-highs in goals, assists, and points in his Stanley Cup Playoff career during the Bruins’ run.
“To have a chance for him to win it, it would be great for him,’’ Backstrom said. “As a good friend of his, I was a little disappointed when he got traded from our team and then we went on winning it that year (without him). It was a little unfortunate but at the same time, it’s part of the business.
“He’s a great team player. He’s one of those players you want to have on your team. It feels good to have him on your team. He’s always thinking about the team before himself, which is huge in these scenarios when you want to go all the way. You have to have unselfish players. I mean, I can’t say enough good things about him.”
While the Capitals would be interested in a reunion with Johansson, they have $10,080,706 with 16 players under contract for 2019-20 and have to re-sign forward Jakub Vrana, their second-leading goal scorer from this past season (24 goals), as he can become a restricted free agent July 1. While a reunion with Johansson would sound possible a few months ago, his price tag has only gone up since getting traded to the Bruins.
One reason why Johansson might not decide to sign with the Capitals is that he will probably not have the same role as he did with the team previously. The Capitals’ top-six is set for next season. While he plays on the third line with the Bruins, other teams that will be making pitches to him later this month will be penciling him in their top-six.
Since the Capitals’ top-six forward group is set to last year, why would they pay a forward to a rich contract only to play on their third line? It may not make sense to the Capitals to sign him for $3.5-4 million per year. Besides, he has hit the 20-goal plateau only twice in his career and has been injury prone for the past few years since leaving the Capitals.
In addition, he has never tallied more than two goals in one Stanley Cup Playoff run before this season, a contract year for him.
While bringing Johansson back would be a welcoming addition for the Capitals, there may be some other fish in the sea that will be cheaper and still add depth to the team’s forward group.
“He’s a great team player,” added Backstrom. “He’s one of those players you want to have on your team. It feels good to have him on your team. He’s always thinking about the team before himself, which is huge in these scenarios when you want to go all the way. You have to have unselfish players. I mean, I can’t say enough good things about him. … I feel like maybe if anyone deserves to win it this year, it’s him in Boston.”
By Harrison Brown