Brooks Laich could have been one of the summer’s most sought-after free agents, but the versatile forward said Tuesday that he never intended to leave the team on which he has become a nightly contributor and dressing room presence over the past six seasons.
So Laich, 28, opted to not enter the open market Friday as an unrestricted free agent and instead agreed Tuesday to a six-year contract extension worth $27 million with the Washington Capitals.
“There was never a serious consideration to go anywhere else,” Laich said during a conference call with reporters. “All along I didn’t pay attention to the buzz of going to this team or going to that team because I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I knew all along that Washington wanted me back, and I knew I wanted to be back. It was just a matter of figuring out the details.”
The deal carries a salary cap hit of $4.5 million each year but it is front-loaded; Laich will earn $6.5 million in 2011-12, then $4 million each of the next two seasons, followed by $4.5 million in 2014-15 and $4 million each of the last two years. The contract also includes a limited no-trade clause for the first four years that allows Laich to submit a list of five teams he cannot be traded to at the beginning of the year.
Laich and the Capitals had reached an oral agreement on the contract prior to the NHL Entry Draft this past weekend in Minnesota. It was a self-imposed deadline, Laich said, in order to make sure Washington wouldn’t opt to find a replacement for him during all the trade talks that occur at the draft.
“I had no intention of going to July 1 or trying to push Washington right to the very edge,” Laich said. “I just wanted to get a good and fair deal and I wanted to get it before the draft, so that they knew I’d be returning to Washington. At the draft, anything can happen.”
Laich, who recorded 16 goals and 48 points in 82 games in 2010-11, has become a human Swiss Army knife for the Capitals in recent years, averaging at least 18 minutes of ice time in each of the past two seasons while playing on the power play, penalty kill and at even strength. He has occupied all three forward positions and occasionally served spot duty as a defenseman, but he may see more time at his natural position of center this coming season.
General Manager George McPhee praised Laich’s versatility and development into one of Washington’s best penalty killers but said he would like to see the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Saskatchewan native in the middle of the ice more.
“If you’re strong down through center ice, I think you’re a better club,” said McPhee, who added that the Capitals considered using Laich at center had they not picked up Jason Arnott at the trade deadline. “Having a good sized guy at center ice with experience is something we’d like to take a look at. It will depend on not only how he plays but how other players play in certain positions.”
It’s a challenge that Laich, who predominantly played center until reaching the NHL, would enjoy, but he said he’s prepared to take on whatever role he is assigned. Part of Laich’s natural role in Washington’s dressing room is as a leader, and when last season ended, he sat down with management to discuss concerns he had following the Capitals’ second consecutive premature postseason exit.
Laich wouldn’t divulge the specific nature of those private conversations, but stressed that he is convinced the team is “moving in the right direction” and that he believes there will be a greater accountability on the part of each player in the future.
“I think, this year, there’s got to be a lot more accountability among our players to each other, to the coaches,” Laich said. “The coaching staff does a great job setting out a game plan and it’s up to every single player to adhere to that game plan. It’s up to every single player — doesn’t matter how much you make, how long you’ve been here or what your name is — to practice as hard as they can, to practice as a team, to work as a team.”
Capitals notes: With the addition of Laich’s contract, the Capitals have more than $8.9 million remaining under the NHL salary cap of $64.3 million for next season, according to capgeek.com. Five players from the 2010-11 roster — Jason Arnott, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Scott Hannan and Marco Sturm — remain unsigned and are set to become unrestricted free agents at noon on Friday. . . . Tyler Sloan cleared waivers and the Capitals have until the NHL’s deadline of 5 p.m. June 30 to buy him out. If Washington does buy out Sloan, who is scheduled to earn $700,000 in 2011-12, it would result in a salary cap hit of $233,333 each of the next two seasons.