It would have been easy for the Washington Capitals and John Carlson to agree to a short contract and move on. Similar situations with restricted free agents were resolved that way, including Karl Alzner last summer and Mathieu Perreault a couple of months ago.
“We’ve done a lot of what we call bridge deals, just one- or two year deals just to make sure that we knew what we have in the player,” general manager George McPhee said, “and then if he turns out the way you hope it’s easier to commit to the player going forward.”
But Carlson wanted a long-term deal, and he got it Friday: six years for $23.8 million. Negotiations dragged on until the final day before a lockout makes business impossible, but the young defenseman was more than just happy to get this done this way.
“Everyone’s different. I really like the city, I like the situation and being close to home and the team that we have here,” Carlson said. “So I felt that this is what I wanted to do and I was adamant about it.”
This was Carlson’s call, and the 22-year-old doesn’t mind that he’s taking the risk that he might be worth much more than his $3.967 million cap hit in a few seasons.
“I’m sure in that terms of years that maybe I will be, but maybe I won’t be, too,” Carlson said. “I know from myself, from my game and what I’ve done, I think that it’s a big commitment from them and it’s a big commitment for me. I know that I can get a lot better, and I’m not happy with where I am, ever. I think that what they’ve shown to me means a lot, No. 1, and will help me.”
Agent Paul Krepelka said Carlson’s desire to sign for the long haul probably caused these negotiations to go on for a longer period of time than many expected. But there was another variable.
“It was just the dynamic of the upcoming CBA, the potential whether rules were going to be changed or not, just made this a real complex and difficult negotiation,” Krepelka said. “Who knew the uncertainty of what the rules are going to be going forward?”
“We were pretty comfortable with what we have in the player, the direction he’s going in and what he can do,” McPhee said. “He’s a good size guy, he’s strong enough in the corners to come up with the puck, he defends real well, he’s mobile, he’s got offense in his games, he stays healthy and hasn’t missed any games the last couple of years. So we thought in this particular case that the longer term would work for us.”
If the new CBA includes contract rollbacks, Carlson will be an exceptional value. If it doesn’t, he’s still likely to make $4 million look like a steal, if these past playoffs were any indication.
After an uneven regular season in which Carlson often made blunders in his own zone, he put together an excellent all-around performance against the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. As part of a shutdown pair alongside Karl Alzner, Carlson looked like he could star at both ends of the ice.
“A guy of that caliber, his role will continue to grow. I know George said that we expect that from him,” said coach Adam Oates, who scouted Carlson as an assistant with the New Jersey Devils. “He’s going to get better and better.”
If improvement happens on a favorable course, a Norris Trophy could be in Carlson’s future. That would make this contract highway robbery for the Caps.
“You hope so. What you’re trying to do is [make] a deal that both parties can live with and we like the deal and he likes the deal and we’re certainly OK if a guy outperforms his contract,” McPhee said. “We’ll take that any time.”