Thursday, September 15, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Forwards: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson

“All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

When Marcus Johansson was traded to the New Jersey Devils in July 2017 for a second round draft pick in 2018 and a third round draft pick in 2018, he was coming off a career year for the Caps – 24-34-58, plus-25, while playing in all 82 games for the second time in his career.  He earned votes for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward (tied with Mark Scheifele for 30th of 56 forwards receiving votes) and for the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play (18th of 70 players receiving votes).

It was not enough to keep Johansson from being a salary cap casualty after the club signed a number of other players to hefty deals.  And with the trade to New Jersey, Johansson began a journey that saw him play 234 games for five teams over parts of five seasons over three of the four continental United States time zones (he somehow missed playing for either of the two teams in the Mountain time zone).

But Johansson returned to Washington last March from the Seattle Kraken for Daniel Sprong, a fourth round draft pick in 2022, and a sixth round draft pick in 2023.  His return was not especially impressive.  In 18 games he was 3-3-6, minus-4 – tied for fifth in goals among forwards over that stretch, tenth in assists, tied for ninth in points, tied for 11th in plus-minus rating, and his 14:51 in ice time per game was eighth among the 14 forwards playing over that span.

Odd Johansson Fact… Johansson has played parts of eight seasons with the Caps, and in each one he recorded at least one game-winning goal.  He even had one among the three he scored in his abbreviated stint this past season (April 18th in a 3-2 win at Colorado).

Fearless’ Take… Johansson took a bit of time to get going upon his return to the Caps, going without a point and posting a minus-4 rating in his first six games while averaging 15:25 in ice time per game.  He settled down thereafter, going 3-3-6, even, over his next ten games, with his ice time pared down to 13:46 per game.  The Caps were 6-2-2 in those games.  They were 3-5-0 in the eight games in which he didn’t post a point, another instance of secondary scoring mattering in team outcomes.  Johansson is also a player who almost never takes himself out of games with penalties.  Since coming into the league in 2010-2011, he is one of only three players (Ryan O’Reilly and Loui Eriksson being the others) to log fewer than 125 penalty minutes in at least 750 games (Johansson has 112 penalty minutes in 753 games).

Cheerless’ Take… Johansson was a disappointing player on home ice, going 1-1-2, minus-4, with only nine shots on goal in nine games.  The Caps were just 4-4-1 in those nine games (on the road, he was 2-2-4, even, with 21 shots on goal, and the Caps were 5-3-1).  Then there was ice time.  The Caps were just 4-6-0 in the ten games in which Johansson logged at least 14 minutes (5-1-2 when he averaged less than 14 minutes).  Only three times in 18 games did he post a plus rating.  His 0.33 points per game were his worst in eight seasons with the Caps.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 800 career games (he has 753)
  • 200 assists as a Capital (191)
  • 300 points as a Capital (296)
  • 10,000 minutes played as a Capital (8,570)

The Big Question… Can Johansson be a valuable contributor over a full season at this stage of his career?

They say history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.  And Marcus Johansson is, in a way, the second stanza of a poem, the first of which had Bobby Carpenter as a subject.  You might remember the “Can’t Miss Kid” beginning his career as a Capital, playing in 460 games over parts of six seasons, going 181-201-382, minus-43, before he was traded to the Hew York Rangers.  Six seasons and three teams later, he made his way back to Washington for one last season as a Capital, going 11-17-28, minus-16, in 68 games.  He was not the prolific scorer he once was, more a third line player.  After that season he moved on to New Jersey to close his career.

Marcus Johansson did not come into the league with all the hoopla that followed Carpenter, but he finds himself in a similar situation – a former first round draft pick who spent his formative (and arguably his most productive) years with the Caps before moving on to play for several teams, finally making his way back to Washington.  In the start to his second life as a Capital, he looked like a third line forward, but the unwritten line of his stanza of the poem is what he can do with a full year with the club.  The problem he faces is that upon leaving the Caps he was not the offensive contributor he was with Washington.  In 501 games with the Caps in his first tour, his per-82 game scoring line was 17-31-48, plus-4.  In 252 games since then, it is 14-24-38, minus-24.  To the extent he can regain something close to his production in his first tour with Washington, his second tour could prove to be quite valuable.

In the end…

One of the picks the Caps obtained in the trade of Johansson to New Jersey was turned into Martin Fehervary (second round pick in 2018).  The Caps did not exercise the third round pick, since it (being the higher of two second round picks the Caps had going into that draft) was part of the price that Washington paid to Chicago to obtain Michal Kempny in February 2018.  With both in the Capitals fold, you might think this a case of having one’s cake and eating it, too.

While Fehervary might be the more valuable player at this point for the Caps, Johansson is still a player who is in him prime chronological years, if at the outer edges of it (he will turn 32 a week before the season starts).  Injuries over the course of his career might have taken a toll, and his vulnerability to injury will be a concern about Johansson as the season unfolds (the 69 games he played between Seattle and Washington last season were the most he played in a season since appearing in all 82 games for the Caps in 2016-2017).  As a veteran with a history of good two-way play, his getting off to a fast start on a club battling early season injury absences will be something to watch for to ensure that the Caps remain competitive for what will be a challenging start to the season.

Projection: 64 games, 8-14-22, minus-5