After the 2014-2015 season, the Washington Capitals were faced with a big decision about a right handed defenseman. Mike Green, the team's rock on the blue line for most of the previous decade was set to become an unrestricted free agent. Green had put up Norris Trophy caliber seasons in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 (scoring more than 70 points and finishing second in the Norris voting in both seasons). However, the next three seasons were essentially lost to injury or lockout. And when he was finally able to play a full season in 2013-2014, he was no longer the same player. That year he put up only 38 points and was a minus 16. He was able to bounce back somewhat in 2014-2015, putting up 45 points and a +15, but he was clearly not the same player as his peak.
So the Capitals had to decide what to do about a player who had a long history with their franchise; but who had not been great for sometime. Looking back, they made the right move by letting him go. Green has not gotten a whiff of his prior elite self in three seasons with Detroit, who not appears ready to let Green walk again this year. He has not been a disaster for Detroit, particularly in comparison to other free agent disasters of the past decade, but suffice ti to say thatthe 6 mil AAV that was doled out could have been spent more wisely.
All of this brings me to John Carlson. Another right handed defenseman that the Capitals will have to make a big choice on this summer. Carlson can be coined a "reverse Mike Green." Unlike Green who had recently been only very good, and who had previously been elite, Carlson was unquestionably elite this year, but prior to that has been only good or very good.
Carlson's 2017-2018 stats:
82 GP, 15G, 53A, 68P, ATOI of 24:47; CF%Rel of 1.7, FF%rel of 0.6 (on an excellent Capitals team).
This is unquestionably elite production. It's continued into the playoffs if anyone is paying attention.
But prior to this year, Carlson has been a very different player. From 2011-2012 through 2016-2017 Carlson was a negative possession player relative to his teammates (sometimes severely so like in 2016-2017). He had previously tallied more than 50 points in a season just once, scoring 12 goals and 43 assists in 2014-2015. Other than that season, he had never topped 40 points in a season until this year's dream season. In terms of ATOI, he had logged more than 24 minutes per game only once prior (in the 2013-2014 season).
All of this puts the Capitals in a much harder situation than they were in with Green a few years back. Parting with Green was simply cutting the chord at the right time. Deciding whether to part ways with Carlson or fork over 7-8 mil in AAV will require them to identify whether his more recent results, or his prior results, are what to expect moving forward.
His general manager seems fairly resigned to not overpay, having this to say about his contract:
"It’s tough because we have to go in and balance what we have to pay him, (Tom) Wilson and other roster decisions," Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told The Athletic. "It’s going to come to a point where we have this much to spend. We really like the player, we really like the season."
MacLellan said there have been some contract conversations but this is likely an offseason decision for the Capitals, who have quietly set themselves up for another Metro division title.
"I’m assuming he’s going to say yes or no and ‘I’m going to see what’s out there. If I can get $8 million somewhere else …’" MacLellan said. "I don’t know. That’s me reading the tea leaves. They haven’t come out and said that. They want to sign, I want to sign."
These do not sound like the words of a man about to hand out a massive extension to Carlson. Of course it could just be posturing; time will tell.
All of this is to say, quite simply, that it will be interesting to see what the Capitals decide to do, particularly as they move farther and farther into the playoffs (riding Carlson's continued good play to a large degree).
But if the Capitals were to let Carlson hit the market, should the Buffalo Sabres be interested? Assuming the left handed Rasmus Dahlin acclimates himself to playing on the left here in Buffalo, adding a running mate of Carlson's caliber on the right would give us an elite top pairing. It would also allow Marco Scandella and Rasmus Ristoleinen to more comfortably slide into a second pair role. Adding Carlson would also make our powerplay all the more dangerous. Think of that top unit featuring Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly, Carlson, and Dahlin!
In terms of cap space, the Sabres could easily fit such a contract into their short term plans. As of this writing they have roughly $58 million dollars allotted to 14 contracts. They still have a lot of needs, but given that the cap is projected to be $78-82 million this year, they should be able to fit Carlson in at $8 mil AAV without too much trouble in the short term.
With Zach Bogosian, Matt Moulson, and Jason Pominville all coming off the books in the next two to three seasons, the Sabres would be well positioned to pay Casey Mittelstadt, and Dahlin their money as well. Moving O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, or Reinhart would be remaining options to consider if space started to get tight. Moreover, given that Jake McCabe now projects to be our 4th best left handed defenseman, he becomes expendable.
So it makes a lot of sense on paper. But there is also considerable risk. Perhaps the John Carlson of the prior 8 years of his professional hockey career shows up instead and we get nothing more than a second pairing guy who is productive on the powerplay. Perhaps he becomes a big liability on the tail end of the contract (he will be 29 next season).
Should he become available, would you guys be in favor of handing out a 7 year 56 million dollar contract to Carlson?