Johansson hopes bridge contract leads to Cup

Johansson hopes bridge contract leads to Cup
September 13, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Marcus Johansson could have taken the path that Derek Stepan took with the Rangers, Alex Pietrangelo took with the Blues and Cody Franson took with the Maple Leafs.

Each of them entered the first week of September without contracts and all but Johansson has elected to hold out in an effort to get what they feel they deserve.

Johansson, 22, settled on a two-year, $4 million “bridge” contract with the Capitals on Saturday and arrived from Sweden on Tuesday. He’ll be on the ice in Bellville, Ontario Saturday night when the Caps open their preseason schedule against the Winnipeg Jets.

“I was hoping and thinking I was going to be here when [training camp] started,” Johansson said. “If it didn’t come to that then I would have dealt with it then. But it worked out and I’m really happy it did.”

So why did the Caps decide on a bridge contract for Johansson, as opposed to the long-term deals they gave defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner?

“The bridge deal is a little safer route to go, for lots of reasons,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “You have to know exactly what you’re buying if you’re going long term.

“You worry about long-term contracts sometimes because you wan to keep athletes hungry. People get hurt sometimes and that’s costly. The bridge deal buys you a little more time to sort out what you have.”

McPhee said Johansson’s deal is the highest “bridge contract” the Caps have given a player and if he takes advantage of playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, they’ll be at the bargaining table two summers from now hammering out a lucrative long-term deal.

At least that’s what Johansson is hoping, after seeing his is points per game average climb from .39 in his rookie year, .57 in Year 2 and .65 last season.

“I’m focusing on playing the best hockey I can,” Johansson said. “When it’s time for the next deal it’s time for it, but for right now I’m happy to be here and play the best I can.”

Of course, Johansson would have been foolish to walk away from the opportunity to play with Backstrom and Ovechkin, who will be on his line in Bellville, Saturday night. If he can be a productive top-line player, Johansson will cash in following the 2014-15 season.

“We think there’s lots of upside there and it buys him more time to prove himself,” McPhee said. “Playing on that line he’ll probably get a lot of points get a better deal.”

Ovechkin said that unlike other linemates who tried changing their games to fit in with Ovechkin and Backstrom, Johansson played a straight-line speed game that allowed him to be the first on the forecheck.

“When came to our line he didn’t do different stuff,” Ovechkin said. “He was the kind of puzzle [piece] that fits in. He’s grown up as a player.”

Johansson said his only goal this season is to play well enough to stay on the top line and help take the Capitals where they have not been during the Ovechkin era.

“I’m happy I’m here for two more years,” he said, “and I want to help this team win a Cup.”