Mar 30, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Washington Capitals center Marcus Johansson (90) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Capitals beat the Sabres 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports


With the Washington Capitals only having 8 million or so in cap space going into this summer, the plan was to save the money for extensions for Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson. It’s normally smart to stay in-house and retain the guys that you know are good, instead of engaging in a spending war for guys you think are good.

I believe the extension for Alzner is completely warranted and necessary. Like I’ve said before, with the blue-line being this team’s weakness, locking up top-4 defensemen-in-their-prime is mandatory.

However, I’m not so sure that Marcus Johansson is a must-keep kind of guy. I like him a lot, I’m just not sure he’s what the Caps need to get over the hump in the playoffs. The Caps have an excess of speed and finesse on their roster. Johansson is a very nice winger to have in your arsenal, but I’ve been wondering if he’s more of a luxury for the Caps. Their need as a team is to get more physically and psychologically imposing. The Caps are too often pushed around and thrown off their game. I think they’re a good team, they just need to undergo (another) identity evolution that morphs them into cyborgs like the Bruins or Red Wings.

I like retaining draft picks and developing players. That is how every successful sports franchise operates, outside of maybe the Yankees and Lakers. So I’m ultimately in favor of extending Marcus Johansson. He’s a solid, speedy winger that is still growing. Ideally, he develops a better nose for finishing plays next year. He often seems on the puck at the right time and place, yet can’t bury it. It’s tough when you have Ovie out there burning holes through the net, though, but even that still doesn’t excuse his Ovie-like defensive mindset. MoJo doesn’t throw his weight around much, and that’s okay, but defense is all about effort and at least a little bit of snarl. Both of those areas need to improve for MoJo to be a contributor in more areas of the game, and if they don’t, his contract might not look so good, no matter what it is.

The Caps have a lot of one-way players. Their path to the Cup is determined by how well they fix that problem. For good or ill, I have enough of a man-crush on Adam Oates to think that he can squeeze a lot of unseen potential out of these guys. Having coached Johansson for a year now, I expect Oates to have a plan for MoJo’s development as a hockey player.

I’m still pretty stunned by how deftly Oates remolded Ovechkin’s game last year. Goals are fun to watch. Let’s hope Oates has that same kind of magic for fine-tuning the defensive side of his team’s game, otherwise guys like Johansson might turn out to be empty calories.

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Tags: Adam Oates Alexander Ovechkin Karl Alzner Marcus Johansson Washington Capitals

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