I talked to Brooks Laich’s agent, Roland Thompson, on Wednesday (representatives from the other big-name Caps free agents have been a bit more, um, elusive the past couple days). Laich easily had his best season in the NHL last year with 21 goals (eight on the power play) and 37 points. He will become a restricted free agent July 1.
While Laich, 25, is not one of the big RFA names being bandied about that might earn an offer sheet (Mike Green obviously is), there is a lot to like about Laich’s game and it is not out of the question that another GM could see Washington’s pending salary cap crunch and try to steal an effective and versatile “glue guy.”
A general synopsis of what Thompson had to say was he and assistant GM Don Fishman have been doing a lot of talking and progress has been made, but they just aren’t there yet.
“Don Fishman is carrying the load on the negotiations for George McPhee,” Thompson said. “We’ve had lots of discussions but haven’t seen the light of day yet. I think we’re both hopeful the process gets done by July 1.
“Am I hopeful we can get it done? Yes. Is Don Fishman hopeful? I think so from the conversations we’ve had. I think we’ve made some in roads.”
Last summer Laich and the Caps went to arbitration, with Laich “winning” a 2007-08 salary of $725,000. The reality is no one wins when arbitration is involved. The player tries to prove his value and the team has to poke holes to undermine his value. Things can get ugly and there can be hard feelings. Thompson didn’t say there were any lingering emotions, but this is what he had to say about Laich and arbitration:
“I think it is good for the player to go through it once. The club knows the player is willing to go through it again and it appears the club is too. I don’t like the process because it causes emotional drama and drain on the player.”
Thompson didn’t want to talk specifics but he did say any deal will likely be a one- or two-year pact. Laich’s situation is a pretty unique one. He had a great year last season, but was it a career year, something to expect consistently, or a building block toward better things? It would not surprise me that both sides would have trouble coming to terms on a deal of say, four or five years for that very fact. The Caps probably need another year to evaluate Laich before giving him a hefty contract.
“There is a preference for both parties for a long-term deal, but the problem is when you go on long-term deal someone is going to get burnt,” Thompson said. “Either the team is going to get a good deal and two years later the player is going to feel underpaid, or it is the other way around. The only way I can advise Brooks to take a long-term deal is to protect him with a decent salary toward the end.”
Finding guys who compare to Brooks Laich is not easy. Most of the guys on this list have longer track records than Laich, which complicates matters even more. He isn’t a prototypical top-six forward, but his versatility is a huge asset and he spent plenty of time on the top two lines while the Caps dealt with injuries last year. He was obviously a monster on the second power-play unit, and his forechecking and grit are not quantified easily but also invaluable. Plus he is a great guy in the room (and a top-5 guy for quotes in the league hands down).
How unique was Laich? There was only one player in the entire NHL (Colorado’s Marek Svatos) who scored more goals with less average ice time. He is likely to begin next season on the third line (either at center or on a wing should Sergei Fedorov sign), but should continue to see time on the power play.
Brooks Laich, 25, 21 goals, 37 points, 8 PPG, 14:03 TOI
2007-08 salary: $725,000
2008-09 salary: RFA
Taylor Pyatt, 26, 16 goals, 37 points, 7 PPG, 15:47 TOI for Vancouver
2008-09 salary: $1.575 million
Ryan Kesler, 23, 21 goals, 37 points, 4 PPG, 19:04 TOI for Vancouver
2008-09 salary: $1.750 million
Joe Pavelski, 23, 19 goals, 40 points, 8 PPG, 14:06 TOI for San Jose
2007-08 salary: $850,000
2008-09 salary: RFA
Alexei Ponikarovsky, 28, 18 goals, 35 points, 1 PPG, 15:57 TOI for Toronto
2008-09 salary (cap hit): $2.105 million
Chuck Kobasew, 26, 22 goals, 39 points, 6 PPG, 17:40 TOI for Boston
2008-09 salary (cap hit): $2.333 million
Marek Svatos, 26, 26 goals, 37 points, 3 PPG, 13:39 TOI for Colorado
2007-08 salary: $1.2 million
2008-08 salary: RFA