One of the biggest free-agent signings this offseason actually occurred before the July 1 feeding frenzy. Before hitting the open market (where he would have been a highly sought-after commodity), Brooks Laich chose to keep his roots planted in Washington when he signed a 6-year deal worth $27 million. It’s a sizable contract for any player, let alone a center that was coming off a 16 goal season with 48 points.
In the days following Laich’s contract, there were those who thought the Capitals overpaid for their 28-year-old center. Sure, he’s a valuable two-way forward. Sure, he’s only missed four games in the last four seasons. Sure, he’s one of the heart-and-soul leaders in the locker room. But he still only put up 48 points last season. Then again, the only forwards who have scored more points for the high-powered Capitals over the last three seasons are Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin.
The offensive numbers are only half of the story with a player like Brooks Laich. Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau talked to XM’s NHL Home Ice today (and Lindsay Applebaum from the Washington Post transcribed the colorful coach’s comments regarding Laich). Needless to say, he’s happy that he’ll have his two-way forward around for the next six seasons.
“But I think of him as a modern-day Bob Gainey. He can skate, you can put him in all situations, he can play center, wing, he’s gonna contribute on the power play, great penalty killer, he never tires, he plays as much as you want, he’s in tremendous shape, and he’s the consummate hockey player.
“He’s the kind of guy… that lives and breathes hockey. He’ll get up and his training regimen in the summer is almost legendary, how hard he works. If I told him he had to do this and this and this to be better, he’d be the guy who does this, this and this, and he takes everything to heart. His whole goal is to win the Stanley Cup. I thought it was a real important signing.”
Laich embodies the characteristics that every coach in the league wants from his players. He dependable, he’ll play on both sides of the puck, he leads by example, and he can produce points. It’s not only coaches—Laich is the type of player that fans only truly appreciate after watching him for an extended period of time. There are games where he’ll stand out—but most of the time, he’s the player who always makes the solid play at the right time. He’s the guy who makes his teammates better.
The Capitals will need both Laich and Marcus Johansson to step up at the center position if they want to fulfill The Hockey News’ Stanley Cup champion predictions. Either Laich or Johansson will be depended upon to fill Jason Arnott’s skates in the offensive zone on the second line; while the other will be depended upon to give the team some much needed scoring depth. Despite great regular seasons over the last handful of years, one of the knocks on the Capitals has been their play at center. Locking up Laich for the next six years should help solidify their depth—if he can improve up his offensive statistics, he’ll give Washington the center play they desperately need.
Regardless, Laich will continue to do all of the little things that make him worth every single penny of his new contract.