Washington Capitals: John Carlson seems likely to test free agency

It appears Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson will test free agency 

2018 NHL free agency won’t feature too much top-tier talent. However, one of the few game changers available in the offseason could be Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson. He’s by a wide margin the best blueliner available in free agency and will have a variety of suitors.

During the Capitals’ exit interviews on Wednesday, he spoke about his future.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Carlson, via NHL.com. “I love it here and all that. I want to stay here, but there’s more to it than that.”

It is expected that Carlson will have numerous teams interested in him. After all, top pairing defensemen are difficult to acquire. It’s very rare that you can sign one in free agency, but Carlson is indisputably a guy capable of playing top pairing minutes.

The Capitals gambled last summer by not giving him an extension before he had the best year of his career. Carlson set career highs during the regular season with 15 goals, 53 assists, and 68 points. His 68 points led all NHL defensemen. Carlson’s 237 shots on goal also set a new career high for him.

However, it was during the Stanley Cup Playoffs that he put an exclamation point on an already impressive contract year. Carlson tied the Capitals franchise record for power play goals by a defenseman (four) and set the franchise records for assists (15) and points (20) in a single postseason by a defenseman.

The Caps and Carlson are expected to have conversations in the next few days as they try to get an extension done. Though the free agent defenseman seems like he wants to test the free agent market, it’s worth noting the Capitals, unless they trade his rights, are the only team who can offer him the security of an eight-year deal.

Carlson is coming off a six-year deal with an annual cap hit of just under $4 million. It’s safe to say the cap hit on his next contract could be double that. An $8 million cap hit would make him tied for the second-highest paid defenseman in the NHL. The Caps, due to that eighth year, might be able to get him for a more reasonable cap hit. Only 10 defensemen currently have a cap hit of over $7 million. It would be surprising if Carlson isn’t the 11th member of that group.

 

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If the Capitals can’t sign him, that would significantly alter their offseason strategy. They would probably have enough cap space to keep guys like Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jay Beagle around. It would also force them to have to find a new power-play quarterback and top four defensemen. And, as the Capitals know, those don’t grow on trees.