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
$4,500,000 cap hit in 2011-12; UFA summer 2017
'09-'10 Rink Wrap: 7.57
Key Stat: Between the penalty kill and the power play, Laich averaged almost five minutes of special teams ice time per game - nearly a quarter of his total ice time each night.
Interesting Stat: Laich took 1,394 faceoffs during the regular season, a mark that was not only double (or close to double) the total of anyone else on the team but also the 14th-highest faceoff total in the NHL.
The Good: Laich pretty much picked up where he left off last year despite signing that lucrative six-year contract extension over the summer, continuing to perform as a "jack of all trades" - chipping in on offense, providing some defensive conscience and putting in hefty minutes on both special teams. The result was a second-straight 16-goal season, bolstered by his five power-play goals (which were second only to Alex Ovechkin), and 41 points on the year including the third-most even-strength assists on the team in the regular season. He set a new single-season career high with five game-winning goals, which was also tied for the team lead, and one of those came shorthanded, as he was one of only two Caps to score while down a man when he tallied his ninth career shortie against the Maple Leafs on March 11.
Of course it was his last GWG of the year that was the most memorable and important, as he tallied the eventual winner (and added an assist) in what would become the playoff-clinching game against the Panthers - a day after having the audacity to
guarantee express his belief that the Caps would make the postseason. That's one way to up your badass levels.
Those two points against the Cats also helped him join the growing pack of Southeast killers, as he was tied for third-most points against the Southeast Division, and was one of the better forwards during the playoffs in terms of production as his seven points were tied for third-most on the team (including three points in an eventual Game 3 loss against the Bruins). Laich also continued to bolster the team while shorthanded, logging the second-highest ice time overall and the highest among the team's forwards in both the regular season and the playoffs. Under the heading of "doing the little things right", he was credited with 52 takeaways in the regular season, which was tied with Alexander Semin for top spot in that category, logged the third-highest shot total on the team during the regular season, and led the team in penalties drawn/60 during the playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs, he also blocked more shots than any other Caps' forward through 14 games - and still holds the second-highest
bruises-per-60 blocked shot total in the playoffs two rounds after being knocked out of them.
The Bad: As often as Laich is touted for - and put in the position to be - one of the team's shutdown forwards, he did struggle in that area over the course of the season (although to be fair he did play the toughest minutes of any forward). He was on for more goals-against during the regular season than any other Caps' forward and had the second-highest GAON/60 on the penalty kill among forwards, not to mention being on for five of the team's nine shorthanded goals-against. He finished the season a surprising minus-9, his lowest plus-minus rating since his first full season with the Caps back in 2005-06.
He didn't always balance it out with offensive production, either, often struggling with consistency despite putting up roughly the same point total as last year and failing for the second straight year to crack the 20-goal mark - considering how often he's put in a situation to provide secondary scoring, the team needed him to be a 20-goal guy and he wasn't able to do that. Part of that came down to a number of lengthy goal droughts, including four that stretched out over at least seven games; and while his five power-play goals were the second-most on the team (and his G/60 with the extra man did tick up a little from last year), he still needed to be producing more on the power play, especially when compared to what he's done in past seasons.
And with Nicklas Backstrom out for half the season with a concussion, Laich was asked to take on more responsibility at center - like his fellow pivots, he didn't seem quite up to the increased demands on his role, and never truly established himself as a strong top two center. He sported some pretty bad possession numbers over the course of the season and failed to crack 50% in faceoffs in either the regular season or playoffs; considering the fact that he started almost half of his shifts in the offensive zone, those lost faceoffs may have cost him or his teammates goals that, as the season progressed, became more and more valuable.
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: After posting three straight 20+ goal seasons, Laich only put up 16 for the second straight year - do you think he's hit his offensive peak or can he find that 20-goal mark again? Do you think he is better suited to a top-six wing, a top-six center or a grinder role going forward? Is it important for the team or for Laich that he have a consistent, defined role or is it reasonable to simply expect him to perform in whatever role he's placed on a given night? And finally, what will it take for him to earn a "10" in 2012-13?