As the Washington Capitals got healthier, space in their lineup started to get cramped. Marcus Johansson’s position switch to center coupled with the midseason acquisition of Mike Richards didn’t leave any vacancies at center, so Michael Latta began learning to play right wing as a way to avoid being scratched.
But at the time, Jay Beagle was still recovering from a broken hand, and his return would inevitably edge another forward out of the lineup. In late February, Latta was asked about the trade-off of playing for a deep team that’s winning versus getting more minutes elsewhere, and Latta said he preferred his current predicament.
“I’d much rather be in this situation than a team that loses every game and be playing more minutes,” Latta said then. “It’s been a hell of a year. It’s hard to explain how good it’s been.”
When Beagle returned, Latta was predictably scratched. At the trade deadline, the Capitals traded one wing (Brooks Laich) for another one (Daniel Winnik), and Winnik has played well in his short time in Washington, a top penalty killer and effective fourth-line forward. He’s played every game since joining the team.
That’s left Latta out of the lineup since Feb. 22, and now he’s apparently been leapfrogged in the extra forward rankings. When T.J. Oshie got the flu and had to miss two games this weekend, it was Stanislav Galiev who was inserted into those two games.
“My team’s winning, and there’s nothing you can do,” Latta said this week. “You work hard and you just keep coming to the rink every day, you know? You can’t come to the rink with a bad attitude – it’s not going to help the team out at all.
“You’ve got to find ways to help the team win when you can at practice. Guys need some work, you’ve got to be there for them. Just little things like that. Keep the boys motivated and make sure everybody’s playing good, I guess. I don’t know.”
Latta has tried to stay upbeat. He and other forward and defense scratches often work with the goaltenders and goalie coach Mitch Korn before practice. With Latta being a fan-favorite, this reporter has fielded a lot of questions on Twitter about why he’s been out of the lineup, and it boils down to the Capitals being a deep team with other players ahead of him in the pecking order.
Latta knows that, and he said he and Trotz haven’t discussed it. Trotz has said that he doesn’t intend to rest players, so unless someone is injured, he won’t be coming out of the lineup, further limiting Latta’s opportunities.
“He hasn’t said much,” Latta said. “He hasn’t said anything since I’ve been out. I just come to the rink, and it’s no secret. Come to the rink, work hard every day and just kind of get ready in case they need me.”
Latta (cap hit: $575,000) is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and teams rarely part with those players. But not playing can understandably create some uncertainty about what the future holds.
“When you’re not playing, you’re not really giving yourself a chance to impress anyone and show you deserve a chance to earn another contract,” Latta said. “We’ll see what happens. Playing on a team like this, it’s tough to get into the lineup. Obviously, it’s so deep.”