Bordered by reporters inside Verizon Center, his new coach parked before another television camera just across the room, Capitals forward Brooks Laich hitched up his legs and swung his hips outward, high-stepping to show everyone just how good he felt.
“I’m pain-free,” he said. “Now I want to be functional in that.”
Over the past two seasons, groin issues have halted the once-stable Laich, who from 2007-08 to 2011-12 missed only four games, all during the same year. Yet since then, Laich has appeared in just 60 games, including nine during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, after suffering an injury while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout.
First, he underwent abdominal surgery in April 2013. Then, in March 2014, another surgery released a tight adductor muscle. Alternative treatment methods ranging from acupuncture to electrical stimulation did little to aid recovery and the injury kept lingering.
But two weeks ago, Laich halted his rehabilitation at a point of comfort. He was working out and skating twice each week. Then he took some time off, worked out again Tuesday morning, attended the introductory news conference for new Coach Barry Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan. He said he planned to start his offseason training next Monday at 7 a.m. in Saskatchewan.
“Very, very confident that, come the fall, I will be ready to rock and roll,” Laich said. “I feel great. Still have some improvement to do. Want to get the strength back and the fast-twitch back, so the ability to be strong and also the ability to be fast and powerful are two things I’m looking to redevelop and do that with a full summer of training.”
When healthy, Laich, who turns 31 on June 23, was a versatile, veteran player useful in all situations, from the power play to the penalty kill to lead protections in the closing minutes of games. Last season, though, Laich played 51 games in and out of the lineup, missing 14 of 15 games in November and December, then was shut down after surgery in mid-March.
“I think we need Brooks Laich,” MacLellan said. “When Brooks Laich is in our lineup the team plays better – a healthy Brooks Laich. A non-healthy Brooks Laich hurts our chances.”
According to a team spokesman, Laich, who is under contract through 2016-17 at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million, hadn’t taken his physical as of Tuesday, but is expected to take and pass one within the near future. That said, groin injuries are notorious for persisting, and with Laich’s recent history, it remains to be seen whether the issue will resurface once the regular season’s grind begins.
Asked whether he felt at full strength, Laich replied: “I believe so … I can’t wait to get back and get into the summer training.”