From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2010-11 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2011-12. Next up, Brooks Laich.
#21 / Center / Washington Capitals
Jun 23, 1983
NHL Seasons: 6
Contract Status: $2,066,667 cap hit in 2010-11; UFA this summer
'09-'10 Rink Wrap: 7.57 rating
Interesting Stat: He scored his 100th career goal against Montreal on March 15 - five and a half years after scoring his first career goal against the same team.
The Good: Laich continued his resilient, ironman-esque ways by playing in all 82 games for the third time in four years and has missed just four games during that span (all of which came last season). It's made all the more impressive by the fact that he was credited with the second-most blocked shots among all forwards during the regular season (as well as the most blocked shots among forwards in the playoffs) and was credited with over 100 hits for the first time in his career, trailing only Alex Ovechkin, Matt Hendricks and Matt Bradley among forwards in that category.
Part of Laich's "jack-of-all-trades" persona has included his work on the penalty kill, and this year was no exception, as he earned even more responsibility with the team's new look penalty killing strategy. He picked up over twenty minutes more of shorthanded ice time this year over last, with the second-lowest shorthanded GAON/60 among all regular penalty-killing forwards while earning the most ice time 4-on-5. And his defensive capabilities weren't just limited to his work shorthanded - he had the second-lowest GAON/60 of anyone on the team at even strength and was even considered by some to be among the League's best defensive forwards.
His forty-eight points were fourth-best on the team, the first time he cracked the top four in scoring in his career with the Caps; he also trailed only Alex Ovechkin in playoff scoring with seven points (1G, 6A) and was one of the team's best players overall in the first round series against New York. As a part-time center he also had the second-best faceoff percentage in the postseason while winning 264 of the 524 draws he took in the regular season (51.3%).
The Bad: Despite being the fourth-highest scorer on the team, this year marked the first time in four seasons that Laich failed to crack the 20-goal mark, and he had his lowest point total since the 2007-08 season. At the same time he also posted his highest PIM total, lowest shot total, lowest shooting percentage and lowest power play goal total since the 2006-07 season.
His numbers suffered in large part because of a lengthy dry spell that stretched from the beginning of December to the beginning of February - a twenty-seven game stretch in which he picked up just three goals and ten points (as well as twenty of his forty-six penalty minutes for the year). Twice during that two-month span he went at least four games without scoring a point, something which happened only two other times in the entire season.
But it was with the extra man that Laich's numbers took the biggest hit, as the team's power play struggles were mirrored in Laich's lackluster stats (...or perhaps it was vice versa). His G/60 on the power play dropped to 0.53, second-lowest on the team and a significant decline from his team-best 2.77 G/60 of a year ago. Despite the fact that his seven playoff points were second on the team, only one of them came on the power play - an assist in Game 5 against New York - and he had just one goal total in the nine games.
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: Despite the fact that Laich's numbers weren't exactly "contract year" numbers, he should still generate plenty of interest as a pending unrestricted free agent – something which might be as much a product of the shallow UFA pool as a measure of his true value. If the Caps do attempt to re-sign him, what should their ceiling be, in both dollars and years? Which do you see as the true measure of his season, his stellar work on the penalty kill or his disappointing results on the power play? Would you consider his stellar defensive numbers this season a true indication of his abilities? An outlier? Luck? Finally, what would it take for you to rate Laich a '10' next season?