The Washington Capitals and General Manager Brian MacLellan were one of many teams to make transactions today ahead of the 3:00 PM ET trade deadline. Most notably, the Capitals brought back former Cap Marcus Johansson from the Seattle Kraken (at 50% salary retained), with Daniel Sprong, a 2022 4th round pick, and a 2023 6th round pick going the other way. Additionally, the Caps acquired Johan Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes (at 50% salary retained) for a 2023 3rd round pick.
While the transactions weren’t as big of a splash as last season’s blockbuster sending Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, and a two picks to Detroit for Anthony Mantha, they’ll still make an impact on the Capitals in the home stretch.
The interesting piece around what the Capitals did today was they did not acquire a goaltender. Many hockey insiders and media made predicted the Capitals would be in the market for a veteran goaltender. Perhaps Vitek Vanecek’s play over his last 10 games played (.930 save percentage, 5.61 GSAA in all situations) made goaltender less of a priority this season.
On top of that, prior to the Capitals going on a 7-1-1 bender in the month of March, MacLellan figured they weren’t going to be moving prospects or high draft picks to add at the deadline. All things considered, this is probably a trade deadline that you’d expect with what MacLellan was foreshadowing.
In this post, we’ll take a look at Johansson and Larsson’s play so far this season, and where they may fit into the lineup when everything shakes out. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, Evolving Hockey, and JFreshHockey. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our analytics glossary.
Johansson was traded from Washington prior to the 2017-18 season (oof, sorry MoJo – no Cup for you) to the New Jersey Devils for a second round pick (that turned into Martin Fehervary) and a third round pick. Johansson never lacked speed or skill on the ice, but ran into a bulk of injuries that reduced his effectiveness, including multiple concussions.
In the grand scheme of things, Johansson is still a middle-six level forward in the NHL who has diminished a bit offensively, but still has attention to detail in the defensive end. Here’s Johansson’s RAPM (Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus) chart courtesy of Evolving Hockey:
Johansson will be a solid addition to the second power play unit where Daniel Sprong was used rather sparingly. The second unit was in need of an upgrade in controlled zone entries, where Johansson excels.
You may question why the Capitals would make a seemingly lateral move from Sprong to an older Johansson, and there’s a few things at play here. Here’s one:
Johansson is nearly two standard deviations better than Sprong in Corsi shot attempts against per 60 and expected goals against per 60. Sprong was never going to be a player that Laviolette trusts with copious amounts of ice time, and Johansson has replacement level production in the offensive categories of RAPM, but is way more dependable, defensively.
Additionally, the role for Sprong in the future may have diminished due to the ascension of Joe Snively. Snively recently signed a two-year extension, and many expect that Snively has carved out an NHL roster spot as a result of his performance prior to his injury.
Realistically, the trade pans out to be Sprong and a 6th for MoJo and a 4th for salary retention. Time will tell if Sprong ends up making Washington regret trading away another young offensive talent that doesn’t mesh with their coach.
Here’s Johansson’s player card, courtesy of JFreshHockey:
Effectively, Johansson isn’t going to be that real impactful middle-six winger that takes a near contender over the top. He does well in drawing more penalties than he takes, but none of his valuations above are really that heartening. The real hope is that MoJo leverages all that existing chemistry with the Caps’ core group and can have a bit better performance in DC than he did in Seattle this season. When everyone is healthy, you could expect Johansson to slot in on the third line, likely skating with Lars Eller and Conor Sheary. Johansson will likely see time on the second power play unit as well.
Johan Larsson is a real defense-first forward that will make the fourth line even better with Carl Hagelin on long term injured reserve, and with Nic Dowd missing some time due to a lower body injury. Larson is a 10-year NHL vet (but his first season only was one appearance) with stops in Minnesota, Buffalo, Arizona, and now DC.
He doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, only scoring double-digit goals once in his career in 2015-16, but is a good defensive role player for the Caps’ fourth line. Larsson is currently rehabbing from a sports hernia surgery, but hopes to be back in the lineup soon.
Larsson is very effective, defensively, and holds his own in terms of goals for per 60. The most impressive fact here is that he’s pushing these metrics while he was playing for a team that’s actively tanking in Arizona. With this performance, he’d fit right in on the fourth line shutdown trio.
For an interesting comparison, here’s how he compares to Nic Dowd during five-on-five play:
These two are rather similar players with Larsson coming out a bit ahead. To note, Dowd has a larger sample size of ice time, which would likely even out the offensive metrics a bit more. These two players will be very complimentary, defensively, and seem to be a good fit in terms of strengths you’d want to see from a defensively focused line.
Here’s Larsson’s player card from JFresh:
The even-strength defensive value is really impressive. The Caps could certainly get tighter, defensively, and Larsson can play both center or wing on that fourth line. That depth and flexibility will be useful in the playoffs when injuries are bound to happen with heavier hockey. We can still expect Larsson to get some minutes on the penalty kill even though his value isn’t quite as good this season.
The Capitals didn’t make a blockbuster, splash-trade today. It was probably to be expected, considering that MacLellan is hesitant to move prospects that are closer to being NHL ready and a first round pick in what may shape up to be one of the best drafts in a while.
The Caps did improve depth with some veteran additions, resulting in less exposure for very raw prospects in the Caps pipeline to the rigors of the NHL playoffs. It stands to reason that the Capitals should have considered going a bit heavier into the market, but prices were a bit expensive this year (looking at that Artturi Lehkonen trade for example).
If moves are better suited for the summer where there’s a bit more roster flexibility, then why spend assets on rentals if it doesn’t make you better long term?
By Justin Trudel
So Mojo on third line, does McM sit or play 4th line. Are we better? If Dowd is out long term Larson could be helpful if he was ready to play. I suspect Dowd will be back before Larsson is ready. Oh well, I am just a hater.
All good questions, some we just don’t know the answers to, and probably a big reason why we made the moves we did. How is the health of all forwards? Position flexibility is paramount. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
Mac said flexibility was important to him. I think going by just that benchmark he hit the mark. The intensified focus on defense (rather than scoring) concerns me.
Yeah, because defense never wins in the playoffs….defense and depth is what is needed in the playoffs
If Ovi, Kuzy, Wilson, Oshi, Backstrom, mantha, Carlson and Orlov can’t provide enough offense, then yeah, we are in trouble. But then yeah, you still have Sheary (likely 20 goal season) on the 3rd line along with Eller and Johansson.
It’s like people want a 30 goal scorer on the 3rd line
Btw – 17 30 goal scores so far in the NHL with about 10 – 15 more projected to make it to 30 by year end. None being 3rd liners.