The Washington Capitals have had a pretty quiet offseason thus far. They acquired a third line centre in Lars Eller and pretty much plan to go into the next season with high expectations and hopes to excel when it comes to Stanley Cup contention. However, there is one more thing they have to handle, and that is re-signing restricted free agent Marcus Johansson.
Johansson is expected to bring the Capitals to arbitration on July 20, as they cannot agree on terms for a new contract. As per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the two parties are on completely different terms when it comes to the proposed annual salary.
The conflict also rises in the fact that Washington has around $8 million left in cap space, according to generalfanager.com, and Johansson is asking for a lot of money. On top of all that, he also wants a long-term deal with D.C.
This request comes off of two consistent, strong seasons. In the 2014-15 campaign, he had a breakout year, one where he ended the season with 47 points (20 G, 27 A) in 82 games. The 25-year-old Swede finished this past year with similar numbers, racking up 17 goals and 29 assists for 46 points in 74 games.
Needless to say, Johansson’s come a long way from a minus-21 rating in 2013-14 and struggles when it came to two-way performance and defensive play. However, is Johansson justified in his asking price?
Well, yes and no. Yes, because he has proved himself to be consistent when it comes to offensive ability, and no because there is still plenty for him to prove before he can get his hands on that kind of money.
It is easy to see that Johansson is a top-six player, and is vital to the Capitals’ success. He is excellent when it comes to moving the puck and starting breakout plays, and can play centre or on the wing. While three consecutive 40-point campaigns give Johansson the upper hand, as does his bounce back from a crippling negative plus-minus, it is the advanced stats that speak higher volumes.
In this chart, we will look at Johansson’s development from 2013-14 and beyond. We excluded the 2012-13 lockout season due to the shortened campaign and excluded his time that he took to break into the NHL. This shows a clear picture of Johansson and the consistent numbers he has put up.
As you can see, Johansson produces on average over two points per 60, and also raised his shots/60 total. This has been a flaw that Johansson has had to work on, and he has developed into a player that shoots the puck more, though he proved to be quite the playmaker in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which was a key component in Washington’s game plan and a huge part of the team’s postseason success (even though they again failed to make it past the semi-finals).
Consistency is a Double-Edged Sword
However, as the Washington Post pointed out, while consistency in Johansson’s game is a blessing, it can also be a curse. Johansson went to arbitration with Washington last season, and was awarded a one-year, $3.75 million contract. Because he put up numbers that are nearly identical to the ones he showed last season, the Capitals can argue that because Johansson put up similar numbers, he can therefore be rewarded a similar contract.
And this could present a problem. In Johansson’s development, his stats have improved, and he has grown as a player, but the end result is almost always the same when it comes to each season. When a player wants to ask for a long-term, $5 million extension, he needs to show huge improvement from the previous year, especially when he was rewarded a $3.75 million deal as a reward for his impressive numbers in that last season.
Defensive Play Needs to Improve
Johansson has gotten better, and as we’ve been seeing, he has come a long way to fix his plus-minus after a dipped to a dreaded -21 in 2013-14 (the season Washington didn’t make the playoffs). Sure, this could in part be blamed on Adam Oates, whose coaching even led Alex Ovechkin to a horrendous minus-35 despite a 50-goal campaign in that same season, but in part, Johansson’s performance speaks for itself, because he had a 44-point year that was weighed down by that plus-minus.
I always say that plus-minus is the worst thing to go by, because it doesn’t focus individually on the player on the ice. All five men, plus the performance of the goaltender, is factored into plus-minus, because it goes for you when you’re on the ice for a goal or against you if your entire team is scored on.
This is why I focus (like all the other stat geeks out there) on Corsi, specifically relative Corsi, which tells you how many shots the player is on the ice for or against. A positive Corsi is good, whereas a negative Corsi indicates struggles when it comes to defensive play.
For Johansson’s career, his relative Corsi sits at a -1.1, meaning that most of the time, the team is defending and taking on shots rather than scoring them. It was a -.6 this past season, and the highest it has gotten was to a 2.4 in 2014-15, meaning he was on the ice for two shots for.
When it comes to Corsi for percentage, it has been over 50 percent for the last two years, meaning that when “Mojo” is on the ice, the team is likely controlling the puck and spending time in the offensive zone. However, it took him until these past years to get better when it comes to puck possession, and with a negative relative Corsi and only a 53 percent CF for 2015-16, there is still room for improvement, another reason that Washington can reason that he deserves a lower contract.
Johansson is a strong performer and a consistent player, and should be awarded at least $4 million for his advances. For him, $5 million is a big asking price, given the tiny spurts of improvement, similar season statistics and possession struggles. However, I do see the point that he deserves a raise out of the $3 million zone, because of his strong numbers, contributions to the team’s success and his impressive breakout performance in the 2016 postseason.