Brooks Laich has been one of the most popular players on the Capitals since he was acquired in 2004. Traded to the Capitals along with a second-round draft pick by the Ottawa Senators for franchise legend Peter Bondra, Laich has played in 699 games for the red, white, and blue; and in that time has put up 132 goals, 185 assists, and 317 points.
While he has played 699 contests in a Capitals uniform, tonight he will be playing in his 700th NHL game. The 32-year old, drafted by Ottawa in the sixth-round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, has become a polarizing figure the last few seasons due to his high salary cap hit ($4.5 million) and his lingering injury issues. But whether one loves him or loathes him, Laich has meant a lot more to the team than his on-ice numbers. His charity work and relationship with fans endear him to many and in his twelfth season (and counting) with the Capitals No. 21 is still a valuable leader to the Caps
In 2004, amidst their ongoing rebuild, then-Capitals general manager George McPhee traded away longtime Capital Peter Bondra to the Ottawa Senators for prospect Brooks Laich and a second-round pick. Laich, Ottawa’s sixth pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, was sent to the Capitals’ then-AHL affiliate Portland Pirates and made his Capitals debut on March 12, 2003. In four games with Washington, Laich recorded one assist. The next season saw him play a bigger role in the NHL, playing in 73 posting 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists). From then on, Laich played just one more season for the Caps’ new affiliate Hershey Bears and has played with the Capitals since.
While Laich has struggled to stay healthy recently, in his prime he was a regular 20-goal, 50-point producer. His career really took off when his former Bears coach, Bruce Boudreau, took over as head coach of the Capitals in 2007. He enjoyed a career-best 25-goal, 59-point season in the Capitals outstanding 2009-10 season. In his eleven seasons played (a few shortened due to injuries) coming into this campaign, Laich has averaged 11 goals, 17 assists, and 29 points.
As mentioned before, Laich’s relationship with fans is what endears him to the fans. In 2010, after the Capitals’ heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, Laich was driving home when he noticed two Capitals fans, a mother and daughter, stuck on the side of the road, having flattened a tire. While he could have simply driven on, Laich stopped and helped the surprised fans, who he apologized to for the loss before he left. This story resonated throughout the NHL and in particular, Caps fans. Laich has been involved in charity work and has given his time to the community.
Despite his injury history, Laich is still a member of the Caps; at least for the two years remaining on his six-year contract extension signed in 2011. With his injuries sidelining him for the past three seasons, Laich’s role on the team has diminished greatly. With two years left on his deal, it’s likely these are the final two seasons of Laich’s Capitals career. With a $4.5 million cap hit, Laich should be playing on the second or first line, but he is now relegated to a fourth-line role. It’s conceivable to believe that Laich will never score 20 goals and 50 points again, but Caps fans should embrace Laich for what he is: not an expensive fourth-liner, but a team player, valued leader, and a person who loves the fans. Congrats Brooksy!
By Michael Fleetwood