Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is in a very good position to sign a huge long-term deal this offseason. Would he be better off signing a one-year deal?
This year’s NHL free agency market could be one of the most exciting in recent memory for several reasons. First of all, John Tavares and Joe Thornton are still projected to be free agents. The former would be the best center in the salary cap era to hit free agency while the latter is still a very good center. Teams looking for a defenseman, though, will have to bid for the services of Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson.
Everything’s adding up to him getting a long-term extension with a huge cap hit. Carlson is by a wide margin the best free agent defenseman available. He leads potential free agent blueliners in points (42) and average time on ice per game (25:42). Whether it’s by the Capitals or someone else, Carlson’s set up to get a lot of money this offseason.
But what if he does the unthinkable and bets on himself for one year?
Why Would He Do That?
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First, let’s discuss why Carlson would do it. Looking at the highest paid defensemen by cap hit, the market desperately needs to be reset. Blueliners don’t get paid as much as forwards.
That’s going to change when Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson sign their next contracts. Both are going to be free agents after the 2018-19 season. It appears they’ll be discussing strategy with each other as the duo tries to correct the market for defensemen.
Connor McDavid’s recent extension will likely help the likes of Tavares and Auston Matthews to reach the eight-digit cap hit milestone. Karlsson and Doughty will do the same for defensemen. How does this involve Carlson? He’s hitting free agency at literally the worst possible time to do so – the season before defensemen starting getting big bucks.
Should Carlson bet on himself by signing a one-year deal? There’s a lot of risk and reward involved in this decision. Let’s look at both.
Carlson would set himself up for an even bigger payday in 2019. Sure, he’s going to get paid a lot this summer if he so chooses. But if Carlson thinks he can get more money a year later, why not sign that one-year deal?
He’d also set himself up well for the future. Carlson wouldn’t be locking himself into any long-term deal before the market gets the Karlsson and Doughty grenade tossed at it. He’s done a good job of setting himself up for a big payday this summer. If Carlson repeats this task next year (easier said than done), he’ll get an even more significant payday.
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There’s undeniably a lot of risk involved if Carlson doesn’t sign a long-term deal this offseason. Suppose he gets injured next year. If Carlson chooses to sign a long-term deal, he’s still safe. But if he went with the short-term deal option, he’s likely hurting his case to get a huge deal.
Suddenly, Carlson goes from easily getting an eight-year deal worth $7 million a year to being lucky to get a six-year deal. Quite the dropoff. Also, Carlson will be 29 years old next year. It’s not a guarantee some team will be willing to give him an eight-year deal.
Finally, a huge reason Carlson’s lined up to get a huge deal is that he’s the best defenseman available. With Doughty and Karlsson, he’d be at best the third-best defenseman on the market. This is before factoring in guys like Ryan McDonagh, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ryan Ellis, Nate Schmidt,
This is an issue of Carlson deciding what’s more important to him. Players want to win and they want to get paid. Those are the two primary motivations for any athlete. Some prefer winning, some prefer money. But usually, one of the two is “1a” and the other is “1b”.
The safe move is to take the long-term deal now. The future is always uncertain and players are an injury away from being forced to retire. Considering Carlson has missed time in recent years, that’s quite relevant for him.
It’s an interesting thing to think about, nonetheless. And if Carlson did elect to hit free agency a year later, it would further help defensemen get paid the money they deserve. But that’s probably going to happen anyway.