From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading the 2008-09 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2009-10. Next up, Brooks Laich.
#21 / Left Wing/Center / Washington Capitals
Jun 23, 1983
UFA; $2,066,666.67 cap hit in 2009-10; UFA after 2010-11 season
Key Stats: For the fourth straight season, Laich improved his goal totals (while bettering his point total for the third consecutive campaign), and he's played in every one of the Caps' 206 games (regular season and playoffs) since February 21, 2007.
Interesting Stat: Laich has never finished an NHL season with a plus rating.
The Good: For a $2 million third-liner, Brooks Laich is one heck of a valuable player, in large part because of his versatility. He was one of two Caps to be in the top five forwards in power play and penalty killing ice time per game (Alex Semin was the other), skated shifts with just about every other forward on the team and at all three forward positions (not to mention the few shifts he skated on the blueline), and took the most shifts per game of any forward on the team. He won 51.1% of the 511 faceoffs he took, cut down his penalty minutes, drew 4.6 times as many penalties at five-on-five as he took (further evidence of the importance of going to the net), and averaged a well-disciplined 49 seconds per shift. Laich was fourth among the team's forwards in hits and blocked shots (recall his epic, stickless three-on-five shift in Los Angeles), and had a plus-four rating from January 17 through the end of the regular season.
Impressive contributions all, and we haven't even gotten to Laich's offense, so let's go there. He was fifth on the team (behind the Young Guns) in points per game, and fourth in goals, power play goals and shots on goal, and he did it all from in close - only Chris Clark had a shorter average shot length at five-on-five. Laich increased his shots on goal by more than 50% (allowing him to blow past the 20-goal plateau, despite a more realistic shooting percentage), and nearly doubled his assist total from the season before.
Simply put, some people think that players like Laich are a dime a dozen. They're not. If they were, teams would have twenty-cent payrolls... and win a lot of games.
The Bad: Laich struggled a bit out of the gate, scoring just five goals in his first 29 games (a 14-goal pace), then following up a modest hot streak (six goals in nine games) with a goal-less January. In the post-season, he had just one goal in a dozen games prior to scoring in each of the final two games against Pittsburgh (though his play overall, especially with Matt Bradley and David Steckel, was inspired). Also bad? The headshot above.
The Vote: Rate Laich below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: What would you like to see Laich improve on in 2009-10? What role suits him best? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?