NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 06: Brooks Laich #21 of the Washington Capitals celebrates in the third period against the New Jersey Devils on February 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in an overtime shootout. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Brooks Laich. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Brooks Laich, the Washington Capitals’ longest-tenured player, has been placed on waivers, but in a slightly confusing move, he’s still traveling with the team to Chicago and is expected to be in the lineup against the Blackhawks, Coach Barry Trotz said.

Bear with me as I try to explain what this all means. Laich has a $4.5 million cap hit that runs through the end of next season. Re-assigning him to the American Hockey League would give the Capitals $950,000 in annual cap relief. But being placed on waivers doesn’t mean an imminent assignment to the AHL, and Washington won’t get that cap relief unless it re-assigns him.

As he’s still expected to play tomorrow, this seems to be a pre-emptive move for Washington to have flexibility before the trade deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. Because Laich’s cap hit is so substantial, he’s unlikely to get claimed during the 24-hour window. But once he’s cleared waivers (and again, he’s expected to), then the Capitals can assign him to the Hershey Bears at their leisure, should they need to instantly clear more cap room for an acquisition.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Washington will do that, but it now has the option. On Thursday, General Manager Brian MacLellan said he’s content with the Capitals’ top-nine forwards and that any additions would be for depth, potentially a fourth-line forward.

“That’s really the hockey ops side, managing the cap and all of those things,” Trotz said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Brooks at all, just because of everything we have had going on. It’s a way to give us more flexibility, and it’s a way to help Mac do more if there’s anything out there that can help our hockey club.”

With defenseman John Carlson expected to be placed on long-term injured reserve, as he had a procedure on Saturday for a lower-body injury, the Capitals will have his approximately $4 million salary off the books. He’s expected to miss three to four weeks, Trotz said, and placing him on long-term injured reserve would clear enough cap room to activate forward Jay Beagle off long-term injured reserve without re-assigning Laich.

Beagle fully practiced on Saturday and took faceoffs, which he said was the last step in his recovery. Trotz said it’s possible that Beagle will be in the lineup tomorrow, and the Capitals had a fourth line at practice of Mike Richards centering wingers Laich and Beagle.

Laich has mostly played on the fourth line this season, and he has one goal and six assists. On Thursday, MacLellan said Laich has been “a good soldier,” but he also said that Washington’s loyalty back to him has its limits.

“I mean, it’s still a business, so that always creeps in,” MacLellan said. “I mean, emotionally, yes, but the business part does kick in. there’s a point where, you know, there’s a business decision that needs to be made. That’s just what it is. You can’t get around it.”