Theme: “A good sacrifice is one that is not necessarily sound but leaves your opponent dazed and confused”
Quintin Laing – once upon a time a fourth round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings (1997) – will turn 31 years old in a few weeks. As this season draws to a close, Laing has not yet compiled a season’s worth of NHL game experience (79 games). While Laing might be the sort of player whose career is spent on the margins of the NHL and AHL, his having played as few games as this (76 games with the Caps over the past three seasons) is as much a product of ghastly luck as it has been his talent.
In 2009 he was called up to the Caps from Hershey, only to see his NHL season begin and end in the only game for which he would dress, sustaining a lacerated spleen when blocking a shot in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This past season he started the campaign with the Caps on opening night in Boston and played in ten games before sitting out the next three with the flu. He returned to play in eight more games. In that eighth game, however, Laing blocked a shot by New York Ranger defenseman Michal Roszival… with his face. Laing suffered a broken jaw. But perhaps typically, the pain Laing was feeling was less in his jaw and more in the realization that he would miss time…
“I was more angry because I knew it was broken, I knew I was gonna have to miss some games, and the thought of that hurt more than the jaw. Just the fact that I knew something was bad, I knew it was probably broken, I knew I'd have to miss some time--that makes me upset more than anything. That's the first thought that came into my mind."
We suspect that only hockey players think this way. But even if it is a common sentiment among players injured in hockey games, the sacrifice did not go unnoticed. As Brooks Laich put it after that game…
"I don't know what to say other than I haven't seen stuff like that in a long time. I mean, it's humbling. Guys are blown away in the locker room. The Ovechkins, the Backstroms and the Greens are the backbone of this team, but the Bradleys (note: Matt Bradley engaged Aaron Voros in a bout in that game) and the Laings, those guys are the guts -- and that's why we win."
Even Bradley was impressed…
"To most people, what he does is crazy, but crazy in a good way. I mean, crazy in a way that everyone wishes they were that brave, you know?"
Laing would have to have his jaw wired shut and would have to be sustained by a variety of liquefied foods until his damage healed. Still, despite all of that, he missed only a total of 14 games before returning to the ice on December 19th against Edmonton.
One wishes that there was a happy ending to this, that Laing came back and lit up the scoreboard or played 15 minutes a night of gritty defense. But after the injury Laing played in only 18 more games over the rest of the season, registering only a pair of assists in that span and playing as many as ten minutes in a game only twice. His overall ten-game segments reflect a somewhat sparse presence in the lineup…
It is hardly surprising that the thing for which Laing is best known (and what was the cause of his injuries) – blocking shots – diminished this past season. Having blocked 53 shots in 40 games as a Cap over the previous two seasons, he recorded 20 blocks in 36 games this year. One should hardly be surprised – we would be whimpering in a corner merely at the sight of an opponent winding up to take a shot, as far as possible from the prospect of hurling ourselves at the puck.
With the end of the season, Laing is now an unrestricted free agent. It would not be surprising if he was to remain in the Capitals’ organization, but it is hard to imagine that he will begin next season in the same place he found himself on opening night this season – in the starting lineup.
Still, one could do much worse than have a player of Laing’s character and selflessness in their employ. When such a player has teammates in awe of his capacity for physical sacrifice, one can only think that in fact that sacrifice must leave opponents dazed and confused… this guy is crazy!