Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He is making $2.4 million this season as part of a 3-year, $6.2 million contract. Should the Capitals elect to retain his services, Laich will be due a significant raise over his current salary.
#21 Brooks Laich
Judging by his performance and by comparable players in the NHL, Brooks Laich's next contract is likely to be for $21 million over 5 years.
Laich, who will be 28 when next season begins, is a 6'2, 200-lb center and left winger from Wawota, Saskatchewan. He was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 6th round of the 2001 Entry Draft, 193rd overall. The Capitals acquired him from Ottawa along with a 2nd round pick on February 18, 2004, in exchange for legendary Capitals sniper Peter Bondra. Laich played in his first NHL game with the Senators two weeks before the trade and appeared in his first game as a Capital on March 12, recording an assist. After the lockout and 10 games in Hershey in October 2005, Laich made the NHL for good. Because he was eligible, Laich returned to Hershey for the 2006 AHL playoffs and posted 8 goals and 15 points in 21 games as the Bears took home the Calder Cup.
Laich's first two full NHL seasons on a weak Capitals squad were solid, but not spectacular. Laich played in 73 games each season and posted a total of 15 goals and 39 points, earning small 1-year contracts after each season. Laich did not have his breakout season until 2007-08, when he played all 82 games and posted 21 goals and 37 points, plus 6 points in 7 playoff games, earning himself a big raise in the offseason, the contract he is currently on.
Laich's Last 3 Seasons:
Laich has lived up to expectations and has played mostly second-line left winger. He has filled in on other lines and in other positions as necessary, including first-line center last week, and he even played defense last season. In the two seasons after the contract, Laich posted 23 goals and 53 points, then 25 goals and 59 points. He is sitting on 16 goals and 40 points this year, a symptom of playing on a less-offensively minded team, but he is still within striking distance of his fourth consecutive 20-goal season with 9 games to play.
Laich does not get injured often. He missed 4 games last season after taking a puck to the face in practice, but he has suffered no other injuries in his NHL career that have caused him to miss time. Laich was a scorer in junior hockey, and he has decent hands, but he is most effective when he uses his size and aggression to get to the net, something he needs to do more often. Laich has a complete NHL skill set in terms of hands and feet, he is solid in all situations and special teams, all positions, and has a faceoff win percentage over 50%. He is a quality person, as well, always speaking up for teammates and the coach, and he is the team's NHLPA rep. Laich also does not take many penalties. He would be extremely difficult to replace on the the Caps roster if they mean to contend for a championship year after year.
The comparable players in terms of offensive production to look at against Brooks Laich are Rene Bourque, Martin Erat, and Chris Kunitz. All three players are scoring line wingers that have a history of consistent second-tier scoring production. All three players have signed contracts in the last few years. The stats below will compare their production in their careers at the time their contracts were signed, including career totals, per game production, and the three years prior to the contract. Note that Bourque was re-signed mid-season and Kunitz had one year remaining on his contract when he signed an extension.
Brooks Laich, Washington Capitals (Age 28 at contract start)
Career Stats: 466 Games Played, 100 Goals, 129 Assists, 229 Points, 0.21 Goals Per Game, 0.49 Points Per Game
Contract Year: 73 GP, 16-24-40
Previous Year: 78 GP, 25-34-59 and 7 Playoff Games, 2-1-3
Preceding Year: 82 GP, 23-30-53 and 14 Playoff Games, 3-4-7
Rene Bourque, Calgary Flames, (Age 28)
Contract: 6 years, $20 million ($3.33 million per season)
Career Stats: 294 GP, 72-84-156 (0.24 GPG, 0.53 PPG)
Contract Year: 53 GP, 18-23-41
Previous Year: 58 GP, 21-19-40 and 5 Playoff Games, 1-0-1
Preceding Year: 62 GP, 10-14-24
Martin Erat, Nashville Predators, (Age 27)
Contract: 7 years, $31.5 million ($4.5 million per season)
Career Stats: 478 GP, 102-201-303 (0.21 GPG, 0.63 PPG)
Contract Year: 71 GP, 17-33-50
Previous Year: 76 GP, 23-34-57 and 6 Playoff Games, 1-3-4
Preceding Year: 68 GP, 16-41-57 and 3 Playoff Games, 0-1-1
Chris Kunitz, Anaheim Ducks, (Age 29)
Contract: 4 years, $14.9 million ($3.725 million per season)
Career Stats: 171 GP, 44-63-107, (0.26 GPG, 0.63 PPG)
Contract Year: 81 GP, 25-35-60 and 13 Playoff Games, 1-5-6
Previous Year: 69 GP, 19-22-41 and 16 Playoff Games, 3-5-8
Preceding Year: 21 GP, 0-6-6
Analyzing the Comparables:
The most important thing to note here is that none of the comparables players take faceoffs regularly. Laich has taken 454 faceoffs already this season and has won exactly 50%. Laich has also averaged over 2 minutes of ice time per game on the penalty kill, similar to Bourque, but more than double Erat and Kunitz.
Martin Erat is the highest paid of the comparables, and he is also the highest paid player on the Nashville Predators. Erat has a higher points per game average than Laich at the same point in his career, and he is a much better playmaker. Erat and Laich both ranked #4 or #5 in team scoring during their three years leading up to the contract, too, but as the Predators are a much lower scoring team, Erat's offense is more important, even if he is more injury prone. They have a similar history of production leading up to the contract, though, even if Erat's offensive ability was evident earlier. The Capitals are not likely to stretch to $4.5 million for Laich, but they could come close.
Rene Bourque is an excellent comparable since he is a rugged winger who kills penalties. He was acquired in a trade from Chicago two years before he signed his new contract, and while there he was in a role similar to Laich's before Bruce Boudreau took over coaching duties (lower lines, killing penalties), and he posted 5 of his 10 goals while shorthanded. Once in Calgary, he marched up the depth chart quickly and he finished his contract year as the Flames' #2 scorer behind only Jarome Iginla. Perhaps the only issue with Bourque's contract as a comparable is that he signed it a season earlier than Laich in the same scoring role, perhaps lowering his value. Laich will prbably get more than Bourque's $3.33 million.
Chris Kunitz is the biggest hitter of the three, and he certainly had the least experience in the NHL regular season. The Stanley Cup ring from 2007 and the playoff experience played a big role in the new contract, as did his maturity (Kunitz played 4 years in college before turning pro). He had a very impressive points-per-game average for his place in his career, and his offensive ability was immediately evident. Laich has had success in the playoffs comparable to Kunitz's (6-10-16 in 28 games for Laich, 4-10-14 in 29 for Kunitz), and if the Caps win the Cup this season, his contract value will explode. Laich has the experience advantage over Kunitz at the same age, so he will likely get more than Kunitz's $3.75 million, as they were both also #4 or #5 in team scoring leading up to their contracts.
Laich is more versatile than any of his comparables on this list, but he does not necessarily have the same offensive upside as some of them. George McPhee will make Brooks Laich a serious offer to keep him, as Laich does so many things for the team. Especially considering his durability, it would be surprising if Laich got a deal for less than 4 years at $4 million per season, even with the offensive drop-off from last season. For sure, he will stay below the salaries of the Caps big 3 of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin. A likely contract would be 5 years at $21 million ($4.2 million per season), as Laich is a safe bet on and off the ice and does everything well. If the Caps are feeling generous or Laich's agent pushes, he might get 6 years, $27 million ($4.5 million per season), but he'd have to swing the comparison to Martin Erat, and it would be tough if he does not reach 20 goals this season. McPhee is not likely to give Laich a contract that will keep him here past age 34, so 6 years would be the limit. If the Capitals advance to the Stanley Cup Final, Laich could expect to get no less than $5 million per season on the open market, perhaps more.