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Breaking down the Johansson trade: MacLellan explains why a top-six player netted such a low return

Breaking down the Johansson trade: MacLellan explains why a top-six player netted such a low return

Marcus Johansson is a top-six forward who set career highs with 24 goals and 58 points last season. He is only 26 years old and over the past four seasons averaged over 48 points. What was he worth on the trade market? Apparently only a second and a third round draft pick.

The Johansson trade has come under some scrutiny for its return and it’s not hard to understand why.

Why was the team only able to get a second and a third round pick for him? Why not trade him earlier in the offseason when the team could get a higher return? If he was expendable, why not expose him in the expansion draft or offer him to Vegas in exchange for staying away from Nate Schmidt?

All of these are fair questions which general manager Brian MacLellan tried to explain.

RELATED: Caps re-sign Grubauer to one-year deal

When the eight-year, $62.4 million deal for Evgeny Kuznetsov was announced on Sunday, a trade became unavoidable. The team had to shed salary and MacLellan’s options were limited.

“You have to find a team that has a roster spot, cap spot and draft picks and we had contacted a few of the teams that were in that situation,” MacLellan said to reporters in a conference call Monday. “We weren't in the ability or in the area where we could have the ability to take a player back for trading Marcus so we tried to do the best we could with the picks that were presented to us.”

Washington needed to shed salary so they could not take a player in return. That means they had to find a trade partner with draft picks to spare and enough cap space to add Johansson without sending a player back to Washington. Already, that limited the team’s options.

But a second and a third round pick? That’s hard to swallow considering the trade frenzy that happened in June around the expansion draft and entry draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins had to give up a first round pick and a prospect for enforcer Ryan Reaves – a player whose career high is 13 points – and a second rounder from St. Louis.

The problem ultimately was leverage. The Caps had none. Everyone knows the Caps had a salary crunch this offseason, including the other teams in the NHL. No one was going to do Washington any favors. The difference between the Reaves and Johansson situation is that Pittsburgh wanted an enforcer. They wanted Reaves. That gave the upper hand to St. Louis. Washington needed to shed salary so they had to take the best deal available from the limited number of teams that could afford to add his nearly $4.6 million cap hit.

Teams are allowed to go up to 10-percent over the salary cap until the season starts so perhaps MacLellan could have waited for a better deal, but how much better would that deal have gotten? The Caps are the team with the need here. They had to shed salary. To think their leverage would somehow go up as the deadline to get under the cap drew nearer is wishful thinking.

If the Caps had to get rid of Johansson, then why not do it earlier in the summer? There certainly would have been more of a market for a player like Johansson. They even could have exposed him to Vegas or perhaps worked out a deal to send him to the Golden Knights in order to keep Schmidt, a player whose loss has seemingly thrown Washington’s offseason into disarray.

The reason MacLellan did not seek to move Johansson, as he explains, is because he did not know he would need to.

“[Johansson] was making the money that we needed to shed in order to sign Kuznetsov,” MacLellan said. “I think the decision at the end was do we let Kuznetsov go off to Russia and become a UFA in two years or do we trade Marcus?”

The biggest priority for MacLellan heading into the offseason was to re-sign the team’s restricted free agents. The coast of signing those players as well as the re-signing of T.J. Oshie seems to have caught MacLellan off guard, Kuznetsov’s especially. The Johansson move did not happen when he would have yielded the highest return because that option was not on the table for MacLellan until the salary cap necessitated it.

Should he have anticipated the high price tag for players like Kuznetsov and Oshie? Should he have anticipated the team needing to tighten the belt more this summer and made a proactive move to shed salary? Those are fair questions.

MORE CAPITALS: Why MacLellan felt he had no leverage with Kuznetsov

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

We've detailed why Tom Wilson and Brett Connolly are destined for breakout season.

Today we are looking at Andre Burakovsky.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF ANDRE BURAKOVSKY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY

Position: Left Wing
Age: 22
NHL Seasons: 3 (196 games)
2016-17 Stats: 64 games, 12 goals, 23 assists +13 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview:
Due to some high-profile free agent departures this offseason, the Caps will be counting on a handful of youngsters to turn potential into production in 2017-18.

At the top of that list is 22-year-old winger Andre Burakovsky, who figures to get a full-time role in the top six forward group, possibly on the top line alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. He should also see a significant jump in power play minutes. 

The biggest challenge for Burakovsky figures to be the same issue that’s tripped him up the past couple of years: consistency. A year ago, for example, he went 26 games without a goal. But he also enjoyed a torrid 13-game stretch in which he racked up six goals and eight assists. So it’s there; he’s just got to bring it every game now. 

Former Washington forward Marcus Johansson, another first round pick from Sweden, became a 20-goal scorer in his fifth NHL season.

The Caps desperately need Burakovsky reach that plateau—or even surpass it—a full year earlier.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Confidence: "He really relies on his confidence to find success. So when he went through those lulls last season he didn't have a lot of confidence. But he kept shooting the puck, kept sooting the puck and he knew it would find the back of the net sooner or later. He got scratched, he came back, boom, he found the back of the net. I think going on that top line in the playoffs and looking ahead to next season is going to give him that confidence he needs to really produce."

2.  Comfort Level: He's had great mentorship from Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. He understands now, that at 22 years old, he looks at those guys and sees 'hey those guys have been successful, I see what it means to be a pro. To have that connection with Backstrom, who he plays alongside on the ice and spends time with off of it, wil help him take a big step ahead."

Prediction: Over/Under 25 Goals
Tarik: 27, over.
Jill: 25, push.

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

First, we previewed Tom Wilson.

Today we are looking at Brett Connolly.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF BRETT CONNOLLY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Brett Connolly

Position: Right Wing
Age: 25
NHL Seasons: 6 (276 games)
2016-17 Stats: 15 goals, 8 assists, +20 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview: 
After playing the last three seasons on one-year deals, Connolly finally has a little security after inking a two-year, $3 million contract with the Caps earlier this month.

It’s a hefty raise over the $850,000 he earned last season, and it’s emblematic of the higher expectations that he’ll shoulder in 2017-18.

Connolly’s first season in Washington was a strange one. It began with him sitting out as a healthy scratch, and it ended with him sitting out as a healthy scratch. But in between, the former first round pick was remarkably efficient, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games, while skating fewer than 11 minutes per.

Next season, Connolly’s role and playing time are expected to increase … and so, too, are his numbers.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Maturity: "He's finally settling in and understands what it means to be a pro hockey player. He feels like this is a good fit for him. He's ready to handle the increased pressure and increased responsibillity."

2.  Comfort Level: "He feels like Washington is where he wants to be. He has a nose for the net, and with that comfort level now with this team, that natural scoring abillity I expect will come through."

Prediction: Total Points
Tarik: 21 goal, 16 assists
Jill: 20 goals, 18 assists

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME