Hockey is a business. It's a highly personal one, particularly for those of us who are fans, but it is first and foremost a business - something that's often hard to remember and often even tougher to accept. And that business side is why it's time to say goodbye to someone who has been part of the Caps for over a decade.
Saddled with a hefty cap hit (one that has been the bane of many a Caps fan's existence), Brooks Laich missed a significant portion of the last three seasons with injuries and has struggled to regain his form ever since, despite being "100% healthy". For a team with salary cap issues, it seemed as if Laich might be one of the more obvious choices to be sacrificed to the cap-crunch gods... if, that is, the Caps could find a dance partner.
Turns out they have. Late last night, word broke that Laich was on his way to Toronto (along with defenseman Connor Carrick) for forward Daniel Winnik.
From a hockey standpoint, this seems to be a good deal for the Caps. They shed some salary, get back a player who brings similar qualities to the team and avoid having to mess with their top-nine forwards to do so. It removes a contract from the books that has handcuffed the team a bit, if only because injuries turned Laich into a different player from the one who signed the deal in the first place. It's an entirely logical move for a player whose best days - at least as a Cap - were behind him.
But let's be honest... being a sports fan isn't entirely about logic. In fact, it rarely is. And while this is not the worst move in the world from a purely business/hockey standpoint, it's one that stings on a personal level.
Because after so many years with this organization, it's hard not to have a special place in our heart for Laich. It was almost exactly a dozen years ago that he arrived in Washington, a young prospect on the other side of the trade that sent another longtime Cap, Peter Bondra, to Ottawa. In the 12 years that followed, he went from being a prospect and a Calder Cup winner with Hershey, to part of the team's young, exciting core, to a hard-working veteran always ready with a shot block or a good quote or the all-important shaving cream pie.
Particularly in those early, high-flying and flashy years, he was exactly the type of player the Caps needed him to be: a self-proclaimed "jack of all trades" with a blue-collar work ethic, a knack for killing penalties, and the ability to chip in with some occasional offense (and on one occasion, defense). He also was increasingly a part of the local community, a go-to stop for the media, a weekly radio guest and a tire-changer extraordinaire.
Dan Steinberg of the Post summed up Laich's presence pretty well today (and you should read the whole thing, because it's poignant and perfect):
Ovechkin was the star of everything that happened next, but Laich was one of the narrators, a familiar voice saying reassuring things about how bad the playoff losses felt and how much he wanted to try again, while tossing in a few digs at opponents.
He was never the star, but he was important all the same. He had a role to play, and for a very long time, he played it well. More importantly, especially for a city that has had its fair share of detractors, Laich seemed to love it here in DC - and DC loved him right back.
With all but one of his NHL games having been played with the Caps, he departs Washington as the longest-tenured athlete in the area. He was here longer than Alex Ovechkin, longer than the previously-departed Mike Green or Alexander Semin. 12 years is an incredibly long time for any athlete to spend with one team, and a testament to both Laich's loyalty to the Caps and their loyalty to him.
Laich was a faithful soldier for so many years, suffering through the worst teams and the worst heartbreaks with the rest of us for over a decade, and was finally on a team that had a legitimate shot at winning it all. To find yourself traded at almost the last possible minute can't be easy; unfortunately the contract he once earned in part because of what he brought to those bad teams was what ultimately led to him being expendable.
So we bid farewell to one of the all-around good guys, wish him luck in his new adventure and thank him for so many years of service - both to the Caps and to the community. He was and will likely always be a part of our Caps family.
...and we'll let the captain have the final word.
Me and u together since my 1st year..We make this team together! Im gonna miss u bro good luck to u!Gonna miss u! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/feKvUGV6TK— Alex Ovechkin (@ovi8) February 29, 2016