By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008
The Washington Capitals welcomed back two key players from last season's memorable playoff push, agreeing to terms with veteran center Sergei Fedorov on a one-year contract and re-signing forward Brooks Laich to a three-year contract.
Fedorov, 38, has accepted a $4 million contract offer, but the paperwork has not been completed, General Manager George McPhee said yesterday. Laich, 25, avoided arbitration and signed a contract that will pay him $6.2 million total through the 2010-11 season.
Fedorov and Laich played vital roles in the Capitals' playoff push during March and April. Fedorov, after a February trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets, had two goals and 11 assists in 18 games, but it was his prowess in the faceoff circle and leadership in a young and inexperienced locker room that proved invaluable, particularly down the stretch.
"I saw the ability on the ice [but] I didn't think much about the leadership factor, although I should have," McPhee said. "The way the players talked about him in our season-end meetings made it clear that this is a guy we have to have back. In talking to Sergei, he was pretty firm in what he wanted and what his value was. He's been a great player in this league, and we showed him respect and made it work."
The move also reunites Fedorov with fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov. Fedorov, who has credited the trade to Washington with reinvigorating his career, skated with Ovechkin and Semin in May at the world championships in Canada, where Russia claimed the gold medal.
In his third full NHL season, Laich tallied 12 goals in the final 22 regular season games en route to establishing career highs for goals and points with 21 and 37, respectively. Hoping to cash in on his breakout season, he filed for arbitration last week for the second straight summer. This time, however, he avoided the sometimes contentious process, agreeing to a deal that will pay him $1.7 million next season, $2.1 million in 2009-10 and $2.4 million in 2010-11.
"I'm very pleased with the numbers and I hope they are, too," said Laich, who earned $725,000 last season.
McPhee added: "We're pleased that we got a three-year deal because we think he's progressing as a player and developed really well under [Coach Bruce Boudreau] last year. Bruce expects to play him a lot this year. We thought his production would only increase, so it was time to get him on a longer-term deal."
Because of the team's depth at center, Laich, who can play all three forward positions, might spend most -- if not all -- of next season on the wing. (The Capitals' centers are expected to be rookie of the year finalist Nicklas Backstrom, Fedorov, Michael Nylander and either David Steckel or Boyd Gordon.)
Laich, as a result, has tailored his offseason training program to playing on the wing.
"On the wing, it's an explosive game, it's more of start-and-stop," said Laich, speaking by telephone from Regina, Saskatchewan. "So that's something I'm conscious of and that I'm working on.
"I'm so excited to be back you don't even know," he added. "I love our team. I love where we're headed."
Notes: Only three Capitals remain without contracts -- defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and forwards Eric Fehr and Gordon. Morrisonn's arbitration case has been scheduled for July 24. Gordon has until Tuesday to accept his qualifying offer; Fehr is expected to sign his offer. . . . Recently signed goaltender José Théodore will be introduced to reporters this afternoon at Kettler Capitals Iceplex; Laich will be in town on Saturday to sign autographs at Fanfest . . . Andy Boudreau, Bruce Boudreau's 21-year-old son and a development camp invitee, left yesterday's scrimmage with a sprained right knee.