Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee re-signed hard working and fan favorite forward Brooks Laich to a monster six year, $27.5M deal today. Below is most of the official press release from the Caps, followed with info from GMGM’s press conference, and then my take on what may transpire over the next few weeks for Washington.
“We are very pleased to have Brooks Laich continue his career as a Washington Capital,” said McPhee. “Brooks has excelled as one of the League’s finer two-way players and is just entering his prime. His combination of size, speed, versatility and leadership makes him a valuable part of our club.”
Laich, 28, finished fourth on the Capitals in points (48), fifth in goals (16) and third in assists (32) while posting a plus-14 plus/minus rating and collecting 46 penalty minutes. For the third time in his career, he played in all 82 of Washington’s regular-season games and finished second on the Caps with 207 shots on goal. In addition, Laich closed out the 2010-11 campaign fifth on the team in hits (113) and won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs. He scored his 100th career NHL goal on Mar. 15 at Montreal and finished second on the team in points during the playoffs (7) while leading the Caps with six postseason assists in nine games. Laich also finished first amongst Capitals forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game (2:18) and was instrumental in leading the Caps penalty kill unit that ranked second in the NHL during the regular season.
“I’m thrilled to make the commitment to remain a Capital,” said Laich. “It is a wonderful organization with terrific fans and I’m very happy to continue to call Washington home for many years to come.”
The 6’2”, 215-pound center set career-highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59) during the 2009-10 season and scored 20 or more goals in three straight seasons from 2007-2010. In 475 career regular-season games, Laich has recorded 237 points (100 goals, 137 assists) and is a plus-14. In 37 career playoff games, he has tallied seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points.
The Wawota, Saskatchewan, native is second among active Capitals players in franchise games played (474), fifth in points (237), third in goals (100) and fifth in assists (137). Laich is 15th amongst his 2001 draft class in points but is one of only three players in the top 15 to be drafted later than the third round.
Laich was a sixth-round draft pick (193rd overall) by Ottawa in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired from Ottawa along with the Senators’ second-round draft pick in 2005 (traded to Colorado) and future considerations for Peter Bondra on Feb. 18, 2004.
Laich has really turned himself into a very good hockey player with his drive and hard work. He was set to become a free agent on July 1st and several teams would likely have bid on him. McPhee spoke to the media this afternoon (video available on washingtoncaps.com) and talked about the importance of signing his own players. He also highlighted #21’s ability to play center, something he thinks we’ll see more of in 2011-12. Laich made $2.4M last season, so this is a hefty raise, but given that the salary cap is going up close to $5M per team and there are several clubs that aren’t even at the cap floor of $48.3M, the deal doesn’t look as bad given what the open market might have resulted in contract-wise for #21.
McPhee also mentioned that there is a lot of talking going on between teams in the league right now but he is not imminently close to any deals. He did say that he thinks that prices will be way up in free agency so he doesn’t expect the Caps to be players there in a thin market, he sees the more likely scenario of Washington making a trade with another club. As for the Varlamov situation, the GM said that the club will either have three goalies next season, meaning Varly re-signs with the Caps, or they’ll go with two (Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby).
The Laich signing ($4.5M per year cap hit) gives the Caps some high cap figure players towards the $64.3M ceiling to include Alexander Ovechkin (~$9.5M), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7M), Alexander Semin ($6.7M), Mike Green ($5.25M), and Dennis Wideman ($3.9M). Tom Poti ($2.875M), Jeff Schultz ($2.75M), Eric Fehr ($2.2M), and Mike Knuble ($2.0M) are also signed for at least the upcoming season and will make over $2M. Karl Alzner, Troy Brouwer, and Varlamov are the next three guys who would likely be over $2M if they are re-signed. Washington could get some salary cap relief if Poti is unable to recover from his groin problems that plagued him significantly last year (potential retirement?). However, #3’s status will not be known until training camp. McPhee felt that the Capitals are in good shape with the salary cap and they have flexibility to do what is needed to be done to try and win a Stanley Cup.
Both Green and Semin head into the last year of their current deals in 2011-12 so the threat of possibly losing an asset next summer begins looming with both players. McPhee historically has done a good job of not giving up high end players without receiving something in return. I would imagine the team may still be looking for a center if Jason Arnott is not back, as I expect to be the case. Backstrom is the clear #1 and Marcus Johansson is a natural fit to be a super third line center. Putting MJ90 on the second line could put too much pressure on the young Swede so it seems like Laich is the fall back #2 center if another pivot is not added.
More depth on defense is also a likely possibility, especially if unrestricted free agent Scott Hannan is not re-signed. GMGM talked again about the injuries on defense being a big reason for the second round playoff loss to Tampa, so one way to avoid that next year is to find more puck movers in case the injury bug hits again, which seems to be a frequent situation with #52 come post season time.
The GM talked last Saturday after the Brouwer trade about adding more guys with Cup experience so I don’t think he is done putting the 2011-12 club together yet. Clearly the next two weeks are going to be interesting times for Capitals fans, so stay glued to the internet for any breaking Caps news!