With the New York Rangers staving off a series sweep and staying alive for another Stanley Cup Finals game, the beginning of the NHL’s contract buyout period will be put on hold, at least for another 72 hours. But once the window begins — Sunday at the earliest, or 48 hours after a champion is crowned — the Washington Capitals are not expected to invoke their second compliance buyout.
As first reported by CSN Washington and later confirmed by a team spokesman, rookie general manager Brian MacLellan has maintained there have been “no discussions” involving a potential buyout with Brooks Laich, who is locked under contract through 2016-17 with an annual cap hit of $4.5 million. At his introductory news conference, MacLellan expressed confidence in the winger, provided Laich is healthy.“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.”
At 30 years old, Laich has only played 60 total games over the past two seasons and failed his end-of-season physical with the Capitals following abdominal surgery. However, at the same news conference, Laich said he was pain-free and looking forward to offseason training in Saskatchewan. And in a brief telephone interview Thursday, his agent Roly Thompson said Laich “could play right now if he had to.”
“I’ve never heard his enthusiasm and his spirits so high,” Thompson said.
Per the new collective bargaining agreement, NHL teams are permitted two compliance buyouts during the periods in June 2013 and June 2014, similar to the amnesty clause in the NBA. They do not count against the salary cap. Last June, the Capitals bought out defenseman Jeff Schultz, so they have one more available, if they choose to use it. But buyout candidates have to be medically cleared, so Laich would have to take and pass another physical. Thompson said Laich came away from his year-end meetings with team officials “looking forward to next year” with the Capitals. A team spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for confirmation of MacLellan’s statement to CSN.
The website also spoke with the agent for defenseman Mike Green, who said Green’s camp and Washington have not discussed a buyout. Of course, until the first buyout window closes at 5 p.m. on June 30, anything is possible.
For more reading about Laich, colleague Neil Greenberg evaluated his advanced numbers in a Fancy Stats post, which include a strong penalty-killing rate and a not-so-strong ability to help generate shots — or prevent them, for that matter — when deployed for defensive faceoffs. More from Greenberg:
[Coach Barry] Trotz appears to use his top forwards to contribute offense and help shut down the other team’s best forwards
, which sounds like a perfect use of Laich. However, that typically means a steady diet of defensive-zone starts and it is clear from above that Washington does best in terms of outshooting the competition when Laich is used in an offensive role. Unless of course Trotz can figure out what made Laich more effective in the defensive zone this season and make it sustainable for the upcoming campaign.
Even with Laich on the payroll, the Capitals are projected to have a significant amount of cap space for MacLellan’s first offseason at the helm, per CapGeek.