Washington Capitals Get Jump on Free Agency, Re-Sign Brooks Laich

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIJune 28, 2011

After announcing on Monday that they had made qualifying offers to restricted free agents Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov, Mathieu Perreault, Francois Bouchard and the recently acquired Troy Brouwer, the Washington Capitals followed up by announcing today that they have resigned 28-year-old center Brooks Laich.

According to Capitals.NHL.com, the Capitals announced the deal today. The extension is good for six years, and $27 million, or $4.5 million per season. The deal came together late last week, and was done in principle prior to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft this past weekend

Laich was acquired in February of 2004 during a time when the Capitals were purging their roster of high priced superstars. The Ottawa Senators dealt Laich, along with a second round selection, for long-time fan favorite Peter Bondra.

Free agency opens for the NHL on July 1 and Laich was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. He would have been free to negotiate, and play with any team he desired, but according to Laich, Washington was the only place he wanted to play.

Speaking to Mike Vogel of Capitals.NHL.com, Laich said, “At the end of the day, you sit back and you look at yourself and your situation in Washington. I have everything I’ve always dreamed of and worked for in playing hockey. I have a team that has a chance to win a Stanley Cup every single year, with young players and a core group of players that are going to be competitive for a long time. I’ve got an organization that likes me; I play 20 minutes a night, power play, penalty kill, five-on-five. I’m a guy that’s relied upon. 

“What more could you possibly want? I think I am in a situation I’ve worked for my whole life. Ultimately, I was 100 percent happy in Washington. That’s why I wanted to return and that’s why I had no desire to leave.”

Laich, who has 100 career regular season goals and 237 points, is not going to wow you with his numbers, but he is one of the Caps' most versatile players. Laich was going to be a highly coveted player by many NHL teams come Friday.

Well-run organizations are not necessarily the ones that sign all of the high-priced free agents on the open market. Sports history tells us that simply will not work on most occasions.

Good front offices re-sign their own talent, and Laich was considered one of the top free agents in this year’s otherwise weak class.

Granted, there are exceptions like the Miami Heat of this year, but for the most part, re-signing your own star players, role players and team leaders is the true mark of well-run front office and organization.

Brooks Laich is a good two-way role player and definitely one of the team leaders in the Caps dressing room.

The Detroit Red Wings have kept all of their homegrown talent in house for many years and if the Capitals are eventually going to win their Stanley Cup, it is important to have players that have been part of the system.

General Manager George McPhee and the Capitals have been the model of consistency when it comes to resigning your own. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble and a host of others have all signed new deals prior to becoming eligible for free agency. 

Veteran center Brad Richards is considered the best option in this year’s free agent class and Laich was thought to be the second-best choice behind Richards. With Laich off the market, the drop-off is significant between Richards and the remainder of the available unrestricted free agent centers.

Few if any players will be available who have the two-way game of Laich. The Caps knew they could not afford to lose him and McPhee admitted as much when speaking to Mike Vogel on the Caps web site.

“That position is a little thin around the league right now; it may be why there was more emphasis on drafting centers this year and certainly more of an emphasis on trying to find centers when you’re making trades or in free agency. They’re a big part of the spinal column of your team.

"[Laich's] on our top penalty killing unit, he can take face-offs, he can play either wing, he can play center, he’s even played shifts on defense, he brings speed to the game, and that really helps your transition game and helps you defensively. When a team is playing with pace, it’s hard to score on them. And we’re not even talking about his size or the offense, or the intangibles; the leadership, the commitment.”

McPhee continued by saying, "He’s really important to this team, this guy is committed. I think lots of other teams were going after him. This is an important guy for us."

With Backstrom, Laich, and Marcus Johansson, the Capitals seem to be set down the middle for at least the next few years. 

The Capitals appear to be much more secure heading into free agency than they did on draft night. Many analysts speculated that the Caps dealt their No.1 pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for 25-year-old Troy Brouwer as a pre-emptive strike in anticipation of losing Laich during this year’s free agency.

Instead of drafting a prospect that may not see the NHL for a few years, the Caps added depth by acquiring Brouwer and also no longer need to sign that elusive two-way center many thought they would need to get once they lost Laich.

The Capitals still need depth on their third and fourth lines. They also need a more physical presence down the middle in terms of playing in front of their own and the opposition’s goalies. Head coach Bruce Boudreau could also use a veteran presence like Jason Arnott.

However, these latest moves allow the Caps to approach free agency without a dire sense of urgency. Instead, they can relax a bit and fill their needs. According to CapGeek.com, the Caps have almost nine million dollars of available cap space.

Conducting business from a want or need option rather than a must have standpoint is a lot easier for everyone and Laich’s resigning prevents the “must have” aspect from rearing its ugly head in free agency for Washington.

McPhee and Caps fans have to be pleased with today's announcement. What is even more pleasing is that McPhee continues to keep important talented players in D.C.

Washington still has players such as Scott Hannan, Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley scheduled to hit the open market on Friday. The Caps will fill their holes and probably once again be considered Cup contenders come October.

Laich was the fish that could not get away, and the key to this free agency period. McPhee hooked him, and now the Caps look to be in a good position come Friday. If you ever had any doubts Caps fans, that your organization was committed to winning a Stanley Cup, than look no further than Laich’s resigning.



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