At many times this season, Capitals forward Michael Latta had to watch games from the press box, as the acquisition of veteran Mike Richards midway through the season forced head coach Barry Trotz to sit youngsters Latta and Stanislav Galiev. While Galiev played less than half a season (24 games), Latta played just over half the season at 43 games. For Latta, it was a career year offensively, as he recorded three goals, four assists, and seven points; not the gaudiest of numbers, but a sign he could chip in occasionally with offense. But down the stretch, Latta saw less and less playing time, and it resulted in him sitting out the entire duration of the Capitals’ playoff run.
One of the popular “Caps Roomies” alongside roommate and good friend Tom Wilson, Latta was acquired by the Caps in the infamous Filip Forsberg trade, coming over from the Nashville Predators with Martin Erat (who is now playing overseas and spent less than two full seasons in Washington), Latta is the only remaining piece that the Caps received. A former third-round pick by the Predators (72nd in 2009), Latta has recorded a dismal four goals, 13 assists, and 17 points in 113 career games. While he was never expected to develop into the elite young player Forsberg has become (60 goals, 73 assists, 133 points in 182 career games), his past offensive numbers in junior and the American Hockey League had given the Caps reason to believe he could develop into a useful player.
However, Latta has averaged just 8:10 minutes of ice time in his career and has never gotten the opportunity to take on a bigger role. With his current contract set to expire this summer, and the fact he played little down the stretch and none in the playoffs, begs the question: Does Latta have a future in D.C.? He is coming off a two-year, $1.15 million contract ($575,000 annually). According to General Fanager, the Caps’ projected end of season cap space will be a measly $475,857.00. The Caps have to make decisions on Ricards and longtime Capital Jason Chimera, who are both unrestricted free agents that could prove to be somewhat expensive to re-sign. Chimera in particular, could seek a raise from his current $2 million cap hit.
With Wilson’s and defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s also becoming restricted free agents this offseason, General Manager Brian MacLellan has some work to do regarding his young players. With Wilson and Orlov both key parts of the team’s future, they will likely be priorities. In the past, MacLellan has mentioned Latta as one of the team’s young players that will be important for the team’s future, but Latta’s lack of playing time and offensive output puts his role into question. If the Capitals bring back Richards, Latta’s future will be even cloudier than it is right now. Hockey is a business, and although many of their fans would hate to see the breakup of the “Caps Roomies”, Latta’s future in D.C. is right now, murky at best. It will be interesting to see how these negotiations play out in the next few months.
By Michael Fleetwood