As the NHL's collective bargaining agreement winds down toward its final hours, teams look to get players signed under the terms of the old agreement. Friday, the Capitals were no exception, securing the services of their last unsigned player heading into the new season - whenever it begins - by signing defenseman John Carlson to a six-year, $23.8 million extension.
The signing keeps one of the Capitals' best young players under contract until 2017-18, as the 22-year old likely will give up at least one unrestricted free agent year in the deal - depending on the terms of the new CBA - while earning $4 million per season every year after making $3.8 million in 2012-13.
For Carlson, who had expressed an interesting in staying in Washington earlier this summer, staying close to his New Jersey home long-term was an attractive option.
"To be honest, I think that all I wanted was to be here a long time," Carlson told reporters Friday at Kettler Iceplex after an informal workout. "I think that was something that I've had since I've got here, and it has a lot to do with really liking this team, liking this city and liking our fans."
Carlson had an up-and-down season last year. He recorded a career-high 9 goals, but also earned a -15 plus/minus rating and was caught out of position at times. However, Carlson played much better in Washington's 14 playoff games, recording 5 points and a -1 overall rating against the Bruins and Rangers.
Part of the reason for the struggles was the fact that Carlson had to alter his game to suit the more defensive style employed by Washington last season. As a puck-moving defenseman, Carlson seemed a bit limited in former coach Dale Hunter's defensive system. The arrival of a more aggressive coach, Adam Oates, figures to enhance Carlson's game, and the defenseman - who had indicated he wanted to remain in Washington - inked a long-term deal.
"I felt that, obviously, I wasn't at my best all season long," he said. "But I thought I played great in playoffs. I still think that I can get better and there are things that I can take from last year to kind of know where I need to be every game."
Carlson, just over two years removed from making his mark by scoring the overtime game-winner for the United States against Canada at the World Junior Championship, now will be set in Washington's lineup for years to come. Only Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom holding longer-term contracts with the Capitals.
"[Carlson] was in the NHL in short order [in 2009-10] and has played very well since he's been here," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said. "He was probably our best all-round defenseman last year and we think there's still a lot of room to grow.
"He seems to play his best games in the big games and that's what you like to see."
For Carlson and the Capitals, the hope is that he can build on his performance last spring - whenever the season starts - and build upon his first-round pick pedigree.
"I know from myself, from my game and what I've done, I think that it's a big commitment from them and it's a big commitment for me," Carlson said. "I know that I can get a lot better, and I'm not happy with where I am, ever. I think that what they've shown to me means a lot."