As the offseason begins, we’ll take a player-by-player look at the year that was for the Washington Capitals.
Contract status: $2,066,667 in 2010-11, unrestricted free agent this summer.
The year that was: After three consecutive seasons with a consistent rise in offensive production, Brooks Laich’s points and goals decreased between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns. Where the dropoff stung the most, perhaps, was on the power play. The unit floundered for the bulk of the year and Laich, who averaged 2:59 of ice time per game with the man advantage, saw his power-play goals drop from 12 a season ago to 4.
While it’s hard to not ask for more on the offensive side, Laich’s versatility and defensive reliability didn’t waver.
As the Capitals struggled to find consistently balanced forward lines and auditioned numerous options as a second-line center, Laich stepped in as a center, right or left wing whenever called upon. He also continued to serve as one of the steadiest and most reliable elements on the penalty kill, averaging 2:18 of shorthanded ice time per game, the most of any forward on the team.
Of any player who spent the entire season in Washington, Laich was on the ice for fewest goals against per 60 minutes of even strength play at 1.69, according to statistics available at Behind the Net. (Of those who played more than 20 games, only Marco Sturm had a better number at 1.55, but he played 18 games as a Capital to Laich’s 82.)
Looking ahead: Laich could potentially be one of the more sought-after unrestricted free agents on the market this summer, and whether the versatile forward returns to Washington is one of the biggest decisions the Capitals’ brass will make this offseason.
Laich’s agent, Roland Thompson, recently declined to comment on the forward’s future, only to say: “It’s up to the Capitals to decide what they want to do.”
It’s not unreasonable to guess that Laich will be seeking a raise, though, considering that he’s one of the most utilized players on the roster with his ability to play all three forward positions and occasionally fill in on the blue line if necessary.
Laich didn’t rule out any possibilities on the team’s exit day.
“I’ve been here for six years. This organization gave me my shot and turned me into an NHL player, so definitely have some sentiment there,” Laich said. “But you know, we’ll have to see what they think. It’s up to Washington if they want to make a change or not. If they want me back. I don’t know what they’re thinking; we haven’t discussed anything like that. I’ll discuss it with my agent and my family and we’ll see what happens. For the most part, it’s out of my control now. You have an agent that negotiates for you and I just hope at the end of the day that there’s a hockey team that allows me to play hockey next year.”
Etc.: There may be no more vocal a supporter of Coach Bruce Boudreau on the roster than Laich, who never hesitated to back the bench boss over the course of a season in which speculation of the coach’s future was constant.
Whether as the season began, after it ended or in relaying stories of how much fans’ discontentment with Boudreau bothered him and how he offered support to his coach, Laich’s belief in Boudreau was always on display.
“I remember having a chat with him after the New York game and telling him the stuff that he usually tells us,” Laich told colleague Tarik El-Bashir. “I said: ‘A lot of times you give us the positive motivation. But I want to tell you that you’re a good [expletive] coach. Don’t you forget that. I don’t care what you’re hearing, what people in the paper are writing, you haven’t lost the room, you haven’t lost me.’”