And this is where my optimism ends.
The odds of a player saying they want to return to their team the next year, following a multitude of ghastly playoff performances and exits are just about as high as the Capitals not winning the Stanley Cup. So in other words, the odds are pretty high. Can you tell I’m still bitter at this season’s outcome? But seriously, after a team’s season ends - a team with such promise; typically the players want to return the following season to finish off what should have been. The Capitals were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive season, and once again failed miserably. So fresh off defeat, Brooks Laich wants to return…or so he says.
Brooks had this to say regarding his future with the Washington Capitals.
“It certainly to me doesn’t feel like this is my last day at Kettler or that I have played my last game as a Washington Capital.”
Nothing super surprising about his response. Brooks has been a member of the Capitals since 2005 when he was acquired for Caps legend Peter Bondra. Laich is one of the longest tenured Caps still on the roster. From day one of Laich’s tenure in D.C. he has been one of the most liked (or should I say Laiched) and respected guys to wear a Caps’ sweater. He is without question the most versatile player on the team. He can play all three forward positions, play a scoring role if needed on the top line, plays the power play, kills penalties, and has even dropped back to the blue line when called upon. He can play every position on the ice, and he can play it well. In addition to his on-ice abilities, he has a presence in the locker room that every team needs. He has grown into a vocal leader; something the Capitals are in dire need of. Losing Brooks Laich to free agency would be a two-fold loss for the Caps. Laich’s ability to play in all situations on the ice at a high level makes him very difficult to replace with one player. His departure would also lead to an even larger leadership void in the locker room – a void that growing to epic proportions. There are at least a dozen teams in the NHL who would take Laich’s services at the blink of eye. There will be no shortage of offers come July 1, should Laich not re-sign with the Capitals prior.
Statistically it was a down year for Laich. But when you examine the season even further you would soon realize that it was a down year offensively for the entire team. It was a tumultuous year for the Capitals offensively as they were bogged down by the constuction of a defensive first system. The run and gun days of the last few season were brought to an end, thus the decline in offensive production for the team as a whole. A dreadful power play didn’t help the cause at all either. What potential suitors will look to are Laich’s previous four seasons (2006-2010) where he increased his point production, goal production, an assist production in succession. His power play goal totals also increased in three of the four seasons prior to last season. He finished the 2010 campaign with 12 power play goals.
Brooks Laich is certainly a player the Capitals would like to have back next season. His versatility on the ice and growing leadership potential make him a valuable commodity. But as is always the case in the salary cap era the NHL operates in, it will be an issue of the dollars necessary to retain his services. Laich’s salary last season was $2.06 million. With the potential to be a 25-30 goal scorer in the NHL, coupled with being just 27 years old, Laich will be looking for a raise in 2011 with potential market value reaching $4 million per season. The Capitals already have questions about other pending free agents such as Scott Hannan, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley, and Jason Arnott. There are still restricted free agents that need to be signed as well, most importantly Karl Alzner and Semyon Varlamov. So cap space will be at a premium entering the free agency period. This likely means that Brooks Laich will have to take the home town discount should he want to remain a Capital. Considerning the failings of the last few seasons, one has to wonder if Brooksie will be willing to do that, especially if he can return to his home country of Canada donning a Maple Leaf jersey. The always proactive Brian Burke is alleged to be interested in Laich’s services. Detroit is also rumored to be in the mix as they certainly will make attempts in inject some youth into their aging club.
The Maple Leafs certainly have the cap space to sign Laich. His leadership off the ice would be a valuable asset for a young team many people think is on the precipice of being consistent playoff contenders for seasons to come. And let’s be frank, what Canadian boy would pass on an opportunity to play in a hockey market the size of Toronto?
If a team like Detroit were to come calling on July 1, Laich would be crazy not to entertain that offer. The winning tradition that Detroit has built is second to none in today’s NHL. They are a Stanley Cup or bust organization every year. Well you might say that the Capitals are Cup contenders as well. On paper they are, but as we have seen each of the last four seasons, the team chokes when it matters. If I’m Brooks Laich I’m taking the chance at winning the Cup in Detroit over Washington 10 times out of 10.
But then there is loyalty. The Capitals gave Laich his chance to be an every day NHL player. He took advantage of that opportunity and will now be one of the most coveted players come July 1. We saw a similiar situation unfold with Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nash could have maxed out his income by going to another team, but he chose to remain with Columbus out of “loyalty”. Those are his words. Caps fans should hope Brooksie uses that same logic when he decides where he will play next season. He is and would remain an integral part of this organizations goal of winning a Stanley Cup. That said, Laich has done everything to earn the pay day he will get when he signs his next contract. Here’s to hoping that contract leaves him in D.C.
About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.