“It is, generally, in the season of prosperity that men discover their real temper, principles, and designs.”
-- Edmund Burke
From a distance, the love of hockey and the love (or at least tolerance) of travel intersect in the career of Washington Capitals forward Brendan Leipsic. Let us start with the 2012 Entry Draft. Leipsic was taken in the third round (89th overall) by the Nashville Predators, right between James Melindy by the Phoenix Coyotes and Ben Johnson of the New Jersey Devils, neither of whom have yet appeared in an NHL game.
Leipsic never dressed for the Predators, traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 2015 with Olli Jokinen and a 2015 first round draft pick for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli. He lasted two-plus years in the Toronto organization but dressed for only six games (in 2015-2016) before he was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft. Leipsic played in 44 games for Vegas but did not make it with the Golden Knights to the playoffs, traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Phillip Holm in February 2018. He finished the 2017-2018 season and started the 2018-2019 season in Vancouver, appearing in 31 games before he was waived and claimed by the Los Angeles Kings in December 2018. Leipsic appeared in 45 games with the Kings but was not extended a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent at the end of the 2018-2019 season. He was released by Los Angeles on June 25th, but less than a week later he signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Caps.
So now, having just turned 25 years old this past May, Leipsic is with his sixth NHL organization, having played for four teams in a total of 126 games before arriving in Washington. Unlike other Caps signings this summer, Leipsic is on a “show me” deal, a one-year/$700,000 contract (capfriendly.com)
Odd Leipsic Fact…
Of 649 players to skate for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, Brendan Leipsic is one of only ten to record 300 or more points.
Bonus Odd Leipsic Fact…
Brendan Leipsic was the only forward in the NHL last year to play in a total of 60 or more games, split between two clubs, and not log a single second of shorthanded ice time. In 126 career NHL games he has logged a grand total of 30 seconds in shorthanded ice time.
Hockey is not Dancing with the Stars, but if it was, Brendan Leipsic might be the sort to try and trip his opponent in mid-routine. In 2014, he was named “most annoying prospect in hockey” by The Hockey News. But there might be more than that here. Despite his frequent flyer miles, he has averaged 0.38 points per game in his brief career to date, more than 30 points per 82 games. He has averaged 23 assists per 82 games in his career, and if you need couple of points of comparison for that, Lars Eller had 23 assists in 81 games last season; Jakub Vrana had 23 assists in 82 games. His 0.28 assists per game over his career are more than the departed Andre Burakovsky averaged over five seasons with the Caps (0.25).
There is something to be said for a player who is enough in demand to have been picked up by six franchises. But in the space of barely seven years, from his being drafted to being signed by the Caps? That makes him something of an expendable player, and he has compiled one of the stranger histories in that regard, having been traded (twice), exposed and selected in an expansion draft, waived, not given a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, and signed as an unrestricted free agent.
- 200 NHL games (126; he needs 74)
The Big Question… Is Brendan Leipsic merely in need of some stability in his environment to flourish?
Brendan Leipsic has played for four franchises and did not play more than 45 games for any of them (45 games for Los Angeles last season). It is one thing for a veteran approaching the end of his career to parlay a series of short-term deals, trades, and the like into extending his career. That veteran likely has the benefit of many games of experience and a body of work and skills well known across the league. It would seem to be more difficult for a young player, still (hopefully) on the climbing portion of his developmental arc, to develop a body of work and skills having to move from organization to organization, learning new systems, learning how to live and cope with life as a pro hockey player, and trying to achieve some measure of stability in that existence.
In a way, Leipsic’s modest contract argues for that stability. The Capitals have to make moves on their roster to shed almost $1.4 million from their payroll. Moving Leipsic’s cap burden in its entirely yields barely half of that ($700,000), and that would be the case if no cap burden comes back in trade. Further, Leipsic is not waiver exempt, so exposing him to a waiver claim with the objective of assigning him to Hershey in the AHL risks losing a forward the Caps targeted for signing in free agency.
In the end…
Leipsic will be part of a competition for spots on a reworked bottom-six forward corps for the Caps, perhaps as a fourth liner with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway. At first blush, Leipsic will add more speed and perhaps more orneriness than the fourth line possessed last season. He has an opportunity in Washington that he might not have had in his previous stops. Improving the consistency and performance of the bottom six forwards, particularly with respect to the two-way play of the fourth line, was a top priority. Leipsic will not likely contribute much, if anything, in penalty killing, but his offense could surprise given his career per-game production and a chance to display his talents for a club over a whole season. To that, add that he is on a one-year demonstration contract, an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent at the end of the season and looking warrant a deal that could take him close to his 30th birthday. That Leipsic will have this chance on perhaps the best team he has skated on could provide the showcase to display the true nature of his ability.
Projection: 61 games, 7-17-24, minus-1
Photo: Getty Images North America