The most strenuous part of the NHL off-season was taken care of for Caps owner Ted Leonsis when he filled in the vacant positions at the top of the organization. Barry Trotz is now behind the bench and Brian MacLellan is the guy responsible for bringing players in to fill the players bench. Now that a head coach is in place along with a general manager, what is next for the Washington organization as the Stanley Cup playoffs is near conclusion?
MacLellan has already dealt away pending UFA Jaroslav Halak and re-upped the franchises deal with the AHL affiliate Hershey Bears as interim GM, but that is only the tip of the ice berg. MacLellan has a lot on his plate this off-season and his time to shine begins in the near future.
The Caps have tough decisions to make on veteran players that have been around the organization for quite some time now as the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs is on the horizon. Some of those decisions are whether to buy out any of the veteran players that are currently on the roster.
The buyout period in the NHL begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup comes to a close. So if the Kings close out the series tonight in Los Angeles, the buyout period would begin Sunday and would come to an end on the 30th of June. When this time begins, there are a few names that come to mind that could be potential buyout candidates.
Brooks Laich is the most common name as the top buyout candidate on the Capitals roster. Laich turns 31 this month and still has three years remaining on a six-year deal he signed in 2011 under former general manager George McPhee. Since signing that deal, Laich has not been consistently in the lineup to earn the kind of payday he was given.
When the NHL lockout occurred during the 2012-13 season, Laich suffered groin injuries playing overseas that have kept him in and out of the lineup for the past few seasons. During the past two seasons, Brooks has only played 60 out of the 130 games because of his groin difficulties. In his 51 games played this last year, Laich produced 15 total points (8 G, 7 A), which is not going to cut it as a top six forward.
So the first decision to make that comes to new general manager Brian MacLellan’s table is should the Caps buyout Brooks Laich? If I were to make a decision or have a word in the discussion, my answer would be yes. Washington needs to move on from Brooks Laich and here is why.
First of all, if MacLellan decides to make this move, the following would occur. A buyout for Laich would mean the Caps would need to pay him two- thirds of his current salary with double the length. Breaking that down thanks to Capgeek.com, that would mean Washington would owe Brooks $8.33 million total over a six-year period. With the financial aspect of Laich’s buyout covered, here is why it is a good hockey move.
Paying Laich the kind of money he now currently earns warrants him to be a top six forward. Producing only 15 points per 50+ games played is not the kind of production you want out of a top six forward. So, lack of production is one reason why a Brooks Laich buyout is reasonable, but there is more.
The top six can be viewed as crowded with the current Capitals roster and having Laich still in the lineup can be seen as problematic. Washington has promising young prospects that need to see more ice time and having a crowded top six lineup can cause valuable minutes to diminish. Young players such as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson need to get within the top six rotation in order for them to grow and show what they can do at the highest level.
Kuznetsov showed a promising future last year in his small stint after coming over from the KHL in Russia. Tom Wilson also has shown great things over time playing amongst the third and fourth lines. Kuzy has his place in the top six already, but keeping Laich in the rotation keeps a guy like Wilson out of the six. Wilson is a physical player that is not afraid to hit or fight anyone on the ice and has shown glimpses of being a real good all around player.
With all that Wilson has shown, it is now time in the upcoming season to see what he can do within the first two lines. He needs to develop a better offensive game and surrounding him potentially with Ovechkin or Backstrom would do wonders for his development Increased ice time is the experience that Wilson needs and Laich could be preventing that from happening.
It doesn’t stop at Wilson and Kuznetsov as the Caps also have a promising prospect that could be trying to creep up into the roster for the upcoming season. Last years first round pick, Andre Burakovsky, is a player to watch out for.
Burakovsky spent his first year in the Caps organization playing for the Erie Otters. In the 57 regular season games that Andre got to play as left wing for the Otters, he recorded 87 points (41 G, 46 A). He also was productive in the 14-playoff games he played in Erie, finishing with 10 goals and 3 assists. This kind of offensive talent might need to find its way on to the major roster, especially for a team that struggled to score at even strength play on a consistent basis.
So with a crowded top six due to young and upcoming talent and a lack of production, it is time for the Caps to move on and buyout Brooks Laich. He is an aging player who has yet to prove he can stay on the ice consistently in the past few seasons. The young players need to be able to get on the ice and gain valuable experience that can bode well for the team in the future.
Another name that comes up as a potential buyout player is veteran defensemen Mike Green. Buying out Green would not be a good idea for the Caps due to their defense being the weakest unit on the team.
The Caps defensive rotation last year was a never-ending carousel with over double-digit defenders getting a chance to hit the ice. Green was not at his best throughout the season, but that is not all on him.
The top priority for MacLellan is to bring in another top four defensemen in the rotation. Adding a talented top four defensemen to pair with Green could help Green improve his play. Buying out a defender would leave another gaping hole for a unit that does not need any more holes.
Keeping Green is a necessity because not only brining in another top four-defensemen talent could rejuvenate Greens game, but also his presence in the offensive zone is imperative to this teams success. When Green is on the power play, he adds another element that many defenders on this team cannot. When Green is a threat to shoot from the point, it is another threat on the power play that helps free up Ovechkin. When Green is not on the ice, teams key on Ovechkin’s blast and prevent him from producing. The power play unit is a lot more lethal when teams have to account for Green as a potential shooter from the blue line.
So a Mike Green buyout is not a real good idea, especially when the depth at defense is an issue. Jack Hillen was hurt for almost the last season’s entirety and is still getting back to normal form. Dmitry Orlov has also sustained a wrist injury that he is still recovering from. So with defensive depth being an issue and with that limited depth in recovery mode, buying out Green should not be an option.
The first task at hand for the upcoming off-season for Brian MacLellan is coming in shortly and must be sorted out before the June 30th deadline. This is just the first of many decisions that “GMac” must make as the teams new general manager.
The logical move in my mind is for GMac to buyout Laich and keep Green. After that, the next move of interest is whether to keep Mikhail Grabovski in DC or let him walk in free agency. My thoughts on that move will come in a different column. Until then, it will be interesting to see what MacLellan decides to do once the Cup comes to a conclusion. Once the Cup is hoisted, Caps fans be alert because the time begins to tick on the buyout clock.