Monday, September 21, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich

Theme: “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

In the first year after the lockout, Brooks Laich skated in 73 games for the Caps and finished 7-14-21, minus-9 for a team that finished 14th in the East with 70 standings points. Folks might have been forgiven if they thought that an 11-minute-a-night forward who was ninth among forwards in scoring wasn’t quite a bargain for trading away an icon like Peter Bondra.

Fast forward to 2008-2009, and a Brooks Laich who finished 23-30-53, minus-1. He became an important cog on the Capitals’ power play (9-15-24, third among forwards in power play scoring) and was otherwise something of a jack-of-all-trades, finishing with a 51 percent faceoff winning percentage, 99 hits, 44 takeaways, and three game-winning goals. Laich, if not quite earning super hero status, was turned into a local “Chuck Norris” type for his 17 minutes a game of derring-do. Perhaps not enough to have fans ask, “Peter who?”, but enough so that fans weren’t grumbling about the Laich-for-Bondra trade in 2004.

Let’s play a little game called, “Which is Which?” We’ll compare two players, and you tell us which is which? Player 1 is 25 years old, and his season went 23-30-53, -1. He had a 51.1 percent faceoff winning percentage, 99 hits, 44 takeaways, and three game-winning goals in 82 games. Player 2 is 26 years old, and his season also went 23-30-53. He was a minus-9, had a 53.8 percent faceoff winning percentage, had 20 hits, 20 takeaways, and had five game-winning goals.

Which is which?

OK… you probably figured out that Player 1 is Brooks Laich last year. But Player 2 was a 26-year old Chris Drury playing for Calgary in 2002-2003. It was by no means Drury’s best year, and we’re not submitting a comparable for a $7 million arbitration award on Laich’s behalf, either. But it does suggest that Laich is one of those “under the radar” guys who has become quite an important cog in the Caps’ skating machine.

With Laich’s increase in ice time has come progress. In each of the last four seasons, Laich has played in at least 73 games (82 in each of the last two), and in them…

- His goals have improved from 7 in 2005-2006 to 23 last year
- His assists have improved from 14 to 30
- His points have improved from 21 to 53
- His plus/minus (mirroring the improvement of the team) has improved from minus-9 to minus-1
- His power play goals have improved from one to nine
- His game-winners have improved from one to three (although he did have four in 2007-2008)
- His faceoff wins have improved from 49.7 percent to 51.1 percent
- Hits are up from 50 to 99
- Blocked shots are up from 28 to 42
- Takeaways are up from 28 to 44 (ok, so are giveaways – from 24 to 49… nobody is perfect)
- Shots on goal are up from 118 to 185

Fearless: You’d be hard pressed to find so uniform and significant an improvement among any of the Capitals over the past four years. But cuz… when you did that “Rebuild: Reloaded” thing a year ago, you only gave the trade a revised grade of B-plus. Are you going to reconsider that grade?

Cheerless: Geez, even I can’t find much wrong here. He’s better’n a double value store coupon. He makes $2.1 million this year. Some other guys in that neighborhood include Doug Weight, Trent Hunter, Jeff Halpern, Steve Bernier, and Darcy Tucker (is he still in this league?). Are any of those guys as productive or as versatile as Laich?

In the end:

Laich is entering his prime. He’s been mentioned in a few places as future captain material on this team. He’s also approaching his prime earning years (he is an unrestricted free agent after the 2010-2011 season). So for now, he remains a bargain. We don’t think he’s going to match last year’s career highs in offensive production, mainly because Mike Knuble seems likely to get some of those power play points that Laich got last year (and add to that total). But that won’t make Laich any less effective.

Laich can play any of the forward positions on either a scoring line (say, as right wing on the second line) or a checking line. He can take faceoffs; he can kill penalties (he trailed only David Steckel and Boyd Gordon in PK time last year among forwards). Last year, only Sergei Fedorov among centers faced a higher quality of competition at five-on-five, according to He was sixth among all forwards in goal differential/60 minutes, on versus off the ice at 5-on-5 (+0.45).

Laich has made the most of the extra six minutes of ice time he took last year over that which he skated in 2005-2006. He has become a solid 16-18 minute a night player whose continued effectiveness will be an important ingredient in the Caps upcoming season. If he can continue to exhibit that “extra five minutes” of bravery – or at least effectiveness – then Laich might be Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition of a hero, and the Caps should go deep into the spring.


80 games, 18-27-45, +1

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