Washington Capitals

The Case Against Trading Brooks Laich

The Case Against Trading Brooks Laich
Spenser Smallwood

There is certainly a case for trading Brooks Laich before Monday’s Leap Day Trade Deadline. Here is the case against it:

Opening Argument

Brooks Laich has been a model Cap since a trade in February of 2004 that sent another revered Washington Capital lifer, Peter Bondra, to Ottawa and brought a second round choice and a prospect named Laich to Washington. During his time in Washington, Laich has produced 317 points in 682 regular season games. In addition, Laich has been able to accrue 32 points in his 65 Capital playoff games. He has played on the first line, the second line, the third line, the fourth line, the top power play unit, the PK unit, and even skated on the blue line. He has done everything he can as a Cap save for maybe one thing. Cap space is a real asset in the salary cap era of the NHL, and it is no secret that his contract hurts the Capitals cap flexibility. His cap number at $4.5 million ranks him third among forwards on the Capitals, and he is generally seen as a cap dump in any trade scenario. That does not mean that they have to trade him right now, at this deadline, a trade deadline that sees the Washington Capitals as the runaway favorite for the President’s trophy and in the eyes of Vegas, the odds on favorite to win the Eastern Conference.

Background

I idea of trading Brooks Laich at this year’s deadline is rooted in cap space. The Capitals seem to need a bit of it to merely activate Jay Beagle off of Injured Reserve. The Caps can clear space in basically two ways. They can trade someone from their current roster and receive back less salary, or they can place a player from their roster on waivers and hope that another team does not scoop them up for free.

It appears that General Manager Brian MacLellan does not wish to risk Stan Galiev to waivers based on what he said to the media yesterday, and I imagine he feels the same way about Michael Latta. A simple trade of either of those two players could certainly clear up enough space to activate Beagle, but trading either would only lower the flexibility of the lineup without clearing enough space to make any other add.

In walks the possibility of trading Laich. Trading Laich would clear not only a prorated $4.5 million from this year’s cap, but it would also clear it up for next year giving Washington more space this summer to re-sign their free agents. The space this year could then be used to acquire another piece, probably a guy to slot into Laich’s spot on the fourth.

It is possible the space could be used to acquire a guy that could play higher up the lineup, but the already dealt Andrew Ladd was more or less the only guy rumored to have been available that would have been worth it. Guys like Loui Eriksson, Mikkel Boedker, and Eric Staal just do not tip the scales enough when taking into account the assets needed to be traded to acquire them.

The Evidence

On this version of the Washington Capitals, Brooks Laich is not merely a fourth line left wing. He also plays on the penalty kill. He has played with members of all four of the Caps lines in the past, which is a boon if that familiarity breeds even a bit of chemistry, and the need arises for him to move up the lineup.

Any single fourth line winger that they could bring in doesn’t really bring all that much more than the options the Caps have. If the Caps want grit, they can plug Latta in. If they want a bit more skill, Galiev will be ready and waiting. If they want the defensively responsible play of Brooks Laich, he has played there all year. Some of the names bandied about include Michael Grabner, a similar player to Brooks Laich though with much more speed, P.A. Parenteau, a player with skill that hasn’t produced for a good team, and Brad Boyes, a veteran that barely plays for Mike Babcock, all from the Leafs. None of them would put the Caps over-the-top.

The last thing the Caps want to do is upset the locker room. Does trading Brooks Laich do that? Only those in the locker room probably know that. But not trading him sends the message that management is loyal. Laich, whose Capital career began with an assist in his first game two weeks shy of exactly 12 years ago, does not deserve to be traded. It would be disloyal, disloyal to a player that has been with the Caps through the thick and the thin. The run to make the playoffs in 2007-08, the President’s trophy win in 2009-10, the game 7 OT winner against Boston, the Hanlon years, the Oates years, the playoff losses to Montreal, Pittsburgh and too many to the Rangers all mark Brooks Laich’s career with the Capitals, a group of memories he shares only with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin among current Caps. It would be a shame to see him go.

It is a business, however. The Caps want to win the Stanley Cup this year, and they need to make a move to activate Beagle off IR. Laich is the weakest link on the roster, so moving anyone else does make the team worse. So waive him. It is highly likely that nobody will claim him, so have him play top line minutes in Hershey for the rest of the season. Let him find his scoring touch. Use Latta and Galiev on the fourth line for the rest of the regular season. When playoff time comes, the Caps will have a primed Brooks Laich ready to do battle. Depending on exactly where their Cap number is, the move should allow the Capitals to activate Beagle and make any necessary call-ups in case of injury (they may even be able to add a small contract with money retained like a Boyes or Ryan White). Sure his pride may be hurt a bit, but he may prefer this to anything else. If they are determined to get his salary off the books for next year, do the Cap clearing move at the draft where the pick you might trade with him to make the deal happen has its highest value.

Testimony

“The last thing you want to do is screw up what we’ve got going — not screw it up, but maybe think that we need to add a piece when the pieces are already here.”

  • Jason Chimera

“It would be a travesty for the Caps to get rid of Laich when they are finally ready to go on a real run.”

  • Caps Season Ticket Holder

“I think we’ve got to respect what he’s done in the organization. He’s played a long time. He’s played here. He’s been loyal to the organization, so I think we have to give him respect for that.”

  • GM Brian MacLellan

Closing Argument

The case for and against trading Brooks Laich is not a complex one. On one hand, we have trading a bad contract and assets including prospects and/or picks to better the roster this year even if marginally. On the other, we have sending a positive message to your first place team and showing loyalty to a guy that can still help the team. While trading for Andrew Ladd would have been worth it in my book (disregarding the return), the next tier of rental top six forwards is not very exciting. The bottom six opportunities only provide a marginal upgrade over the Caps in house options. Is that really worth it? If the Caps can waive Laich, activate Beagle and still have some room, then that is the best possible outcome.

The Capitals and Brooks Laich both have one more hurdle to jump. While few Caps fans would immediately begin thinking about Laich if the team accomplishes their goals without him, many fans and players might feel something…sometime…probably after a while. If the Capitals decide to trade Brooks Laich this deadline, it probably won’t be a bad move. Nevertheless, it would be wrong.

Washington Capitals
Spenser Smallwood
@SP_Smallwood

Spenser grew up in the Washington D.C. area. He covers the Washington Capitals for Along the Boards. Spenser played locally around DC, in high school, and in college.

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