What to Do With Marcus Johansson

Posted August 28, 2013

Will Marcus Johansson be practicing with the Capitals much longer? (Photo by Alena Schwarz)

With the signing of free agent center Mikhail Grabovski to a one year, $3 million deal, the Washington Capitals appear to have their roster set for the start of the 2013-2014 season. The 29 year-old former 58 point man fits in nicely on the second line, centering Martin Erat and Troy Bouwer. However, where the players will line up is anything but certain until they decide what to do with Marcus Johansson.

If Johansson signs with the Capitals, something certainly not set in stone, then the roster is likely to settle right where it was last season with Johansson to the left of center Nicklas Backstrom and superstar Alex Ovechkin, leaving Grabovski to fill in for the departed Mike Ribeiro on the second line. However, with a little over 2.6 million in cap space (according to capgeek.com), General Manager George McPhee will have some work to do if he intends on retaining the 22 year-old Swedish international.

The most obvious option for McPhee will be to sign Johansson to a deal with a cap hit worth no more than $2.6 million. However, that would leave them with very little cap space, something teams need when it comes to making moves at the trade deadline, as well as having the cap space to call up players from the minors. While signing Johansson is likely, McPhee will be likely forced to move someone currently on the roster. This could have been easier had he used his second compliance buyout back in July, likely on third or fourth liners in Joel Ward or even Jason Chimera. While head coach Adam Oates is a fan of both, either could be traded before the season starts in October to clear up cap space. However, if they do not wish to move any of the forwards, McPhee could look to move defenseman John Erskine and his just under $2 million cap hit, or backup goalie Michal Neuvirth and his $2.5 million cap hit, however unlikely either may be.

If the team keeps Johansson, what becomes of the bottom six forwards? Laich would move to the third line, bumping one of Chimera, Eric Fehr or Mathieu Perreault to the fourth line. In doing so, that likely sends prospect Tom Wilson back to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, which in the end could stunt his development.

The other option would be to trade Johansson. While there have been rumors of the Capitals shopping him during the summer, they were from less than credible sources. However, the team can only afford so much with Grabovski’s new contract on the books, and other mid-priced players already on the team in Laich, Erat, Brouwer and Ward. While the return could be a veteran player from a rebuilding team, they could also go for a prospect or draft picks, a similar deal to when they sent Semyon Varlamov to Colorado.

By trading Johansson, the team could then move Erat to the first line left wing, and put Laich with Grabovski and Brouwer. The team could then look to re-sign Grabovski in the offseason to center Brouwer and likely Evgeny Kuznetsov, who will be joining the Capitals from Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League after their season ends in the spring. This also could put Chimera on the third line with Perreault and Fehr, and Wilson on a line with Beagle and Ward.

While it has been the summer and there has not been much hockey on the ice, that does not mean that the personnel in the front office have had time for a vacation. While you may see Ovechkin traveling with his fiancee or Green playing with his pets*, McPhee and his team have had plenty of work to do. While the list of items to take care of are dwindling down for the summer, from rookie camps to free agency, there is still one more item to figure out: What to do with Marcus Johansson.

*Green playing with his pets. Photos via Mike Green.