Another run at the Cup

Signing of Laich keeps the team’s foundation intact

Just like fans, his teammates, coaches and members of the front office, Brooks Laich was frustrated about how the Washington Capitals’ season ended - with a second-round sweep at the hands of the division-rival Tampa Bay Lightning.

But that didn’t deter Laich from wanting to be a key part of the Caps’ long-running quest for a Stanley Cup. It actually enhanced it, as the 28-year-old forward agreed on Tuesday to a six-year deal worth $27 million.

First-liners Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom already are locked into contracts through 2021 and 2020, respectively, and while the Caps are likely to experience other changes before arriving at training camp, the deal with Laich signals a desire to keep this group of leaders together.

“The core of this team is very young and if you can keep that together, you’re looking at a chance to win a championship for the next 10 years rather than a window of the next two or three years,” Laich said on a conference call Tuesday. “It was absolutely a place that I want to be.”

Laich’s contract will count $4.5 million against the salary cap in each of the six seasons, and he’s reportedly set to earn $6.5 million this coming year. He was considered one of the top free agent forwards available and could have sought even more money around the NHL.

But his agent, Roland Thompson, said that a substantially bigger contract would probably have come from a team needing to get to the salary floor.

“Would it be significantly higher? You’re never sure. But it wouldn’t have been much higher,” Thompson told The Washington Times. “There’s always a risk when you go somewhere else. What if the coach doesn’t like you? What if you’re not a fit?”

Those were questions Laich never had to answer. Although negotiations had been ongoing since September, according to general manager George McPhee, Laich never seriously considered going anywhere else. Comfort with teammates and the coaching staff played into that.

Many analysts deemed Laich one of the top free agent forwards, but all the talk never materialized into a sweepstakes for his services.

“All along I didn’t pay attention to the buzz of going to this team or going to that team because I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Laich said. “I knew all along that Washington wanted me back, and I knew I wanted to be back. It was just a matter of figuring out the details.”

Laich and the Caps agreed to a deal before this past weekend’s NHL draft, he said, but not until the team fixed some “concerns” he had. Laich, who had 16 goals and 32 assists this past season didn’t want to go into detail but harped on accountability.

“This year I think there’s got to be a lot more accountability amongst our players to each other and to the coaches,” he said, his voice striking a more serious tone. “It’s up to every single player - it doesn’t matter how much you make or how long you’ve been here or what your name is - to practice as hard as they can, to practice as a team, to work as a team.”

With those fears allayed, Laich decided to make a long-term commitment to the Caps just as Ovechkin and Backstrom did. Laich doesn’t bring the same level of production as those two stars, but McPhee knows versatile role players have value, too.

“Real valuable player for this club,” McPhee said of Laich. “He certainly has base attributes that you like in terms of size and speed and talent, but he’s really - through hard work - turned himself into a real good player.”

Expectations will increase for Laich with this new deal as they have ratcheted up for the Caps since they began contending and falling short of the ultimate goal. And just as Laich insists he won’t change his style as a richer player, he said the Caps can get the job done - as long as they learn how to win in the spring.

“To win it you have to play your absolute best in the playoffs, and I think our team is still growing,” he said. “If you look at our hockey team we have a very good hockey team, and it’s not something that happened overnight. … Eventually this will all come together.”

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