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Last Days of Brooks Laich?
Is this Brooks Laich’s last season wearing the Capitals red? (Photo by Capitals Outsider)
During the fire sale of 2003, the toughest deal for Washington Capitals fans was when the team sent longtime star and fan favorite Peter Bondra to the Ottawa Senators for prospect Brooks Laich and a second round draft pick. At the time the Caps were one of the worst teams in the league and in need of a massive rebuild. Not much was known about Laich. Fast forward 11 years and Laich has become a very important figure with the organization and fans. That could be why it may be very hard to see him leave the team this summer.
When healthy, Laich is arguably one of the team’s most important players. He can play at all three forward positions and even played defense when necessary during the Bruce Boudreau era. He can play on the power play, kill penalties, and is more than willing to crash the net. Off the ice he is known to be friendly with fans, even stopping after a Game 7 playoff loss to help a stranded mother and daughter change a tire. Most National Hockey League clubs want a player like Laich. All of the intangibles that Laich brings to the team unfortunately do not outweigh two solid issues that are becoming major problems.
The first, and biggest, problem is that Laich cannot stay healthy. Over the past two seasons, Laich has played in only 60 of a possible 121 games. The one-time iron man has missed most of his time due to a groin problem suffered during the lockout while playing in Switzerland. Although his latest surgery, done March 17th to release a tight adductor muscle, comes with some new optimism, it would not be the first time. That same optimism came after Laich’s last surgery, which was believed to have solved the problem. Move ahead to the end of this regular season and Laich is back where he started.
The other problem going against Laich is his salary and more importantly his cap hit. During the summer of 2011, Laich signed to a six-year contract extension worth a total of $27 million, bringing his cap hit to $4.5 million per season. That kind of money for a forward normally goes toward a high-caliber player who plays most nights. High goal and point totals are expected, something that has not been happening over the past two seasons when Laich has played. He is currently 13th on the team in total points with 15 in 51 games. That comes out to a point per game total of 0.294. For someone making $4.5 million a season, his point totals are unacceptable.
An injured player who will be out for an extended period of time can be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). While that is an easy place to stash Laich when he is hurt, it limits the team when he is healthy. One would only need to look at the end of last season when the team acquired Martin Erat from Nashville and the mess it made when Laich was healthy at the start of this season. LTIR is a good place to put players for a short period of time, but when the player is constantly there, it may be time for him to move on.
Most teams in this situation would be stuck. Opposing teams do not normally trade for players with injury troubles and a high salary. However, the Caps still have one of their two compliance buy outs. The first one was used on defenseman Jeff Schultz, who is currently playing for the Los Angeles Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire. The second one can only be used this summer. The team can let it pass, but with the salary cap ceiling rumored to be lower than once believed, the team can use this opportunity to move out from under the contract of a player they may not be able to rely on anymore. Even if it may be someone as important to them both on and off the ice.
For more of my views on the Caps, be sure to check out my weekly podcast What The Puck?!