Photo: Greg Flume/Getty Images
Come the 2019-20 season, offseason acquisition Garnet Hathaway will suit up for the Capitals donning No. 21 on his sweater. While he will (presumably) keep the number for the duration of his four-year contract, in this latest Capitals Alumni Profile, Diane Doyle takes a look back at the most recent owner of the number and one of the most popular Capitals during the Alex Ovechkin era, Brooks Laich.
Early Life and Career
Evan Brooks Laich was born on June 23, 1983, in Wawota, Saskatchewan to Harold and Jane Laich. He was named after a baseball great and longtime third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, Brooks Robinson. He was the second child and first son born to his parents. Growing up, Brooks was inspired by hockey star, Joe Sakic. He played minor hockey during the 1999-00 season with the Tisdale Trojans in the Saskatchewan Minor Hockey League (SMHL) and was the team’s leading scorer with 51 goals and 52 assists (103 points) in 57 games played, resulting in his being named the team’s Most Valuable Player and finishing as the runner-up for league MVP.
He began his junior hockey career with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League (WHL) the following season (2000-01), where the competition proved to be much more difficult than in midget hockey. In 79 games, he scored nine goals and added 21 assists, despite the dip in production, he was awarded the team’s Scholastic Player of the Year for his academic performance. In June 2001, he was drafted in that year’s NHL Entry Draft in the sixth-round, being selected 193rd overall by the Ottawa Senators.
Laich began the 2001-02 season with Moose Jaw but ended up getting traded to the Seattle Thunderbirds about a third of the way through the season, one that turned out to be a poor one for Moose Jaw, as one of the players obtained in exchange for Laich did not report to the team and the other one left the team later that year. However, the trade turned out to be beneficial for Laich’s career, as he developed a better offensive game after being given more opportunities to use his skill-set by Head Coach Dean Chynoweth. He had six goals in 27 games for Moose Jaw but scored 22 goals and added 36 assists for Seattle in 47 games. He was productive in the playoffs as well, scoring five goals and recording three assists in 11 playoff games, including two game-winning goals. He was even better for Seattle the following season (2002-03), as he scored 41 goals and added 53 assists for 94 points to lead the team; he finished sixth in the league in scoring on the season. Laich was named the Most Valuable Player for the WHL Western Conference; and was also named to the WHL’s Western Conference First All-Star Team and the Canadian Hockey League’s Third All-Star Team. In 2002-03, he also performed well in the playoffs for the Thunderbirds, scoring five goals and recording 14 assists in 15 playoff games. He also represented Canada in the World Junior Championships, helping the team to a Silver Medal finish.
During 2003-04, Laich began his professional career with the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate Binghamton Senators, scoring 15 goals and adding 18 assists in 44 games played. He was recalled to Ottawa and made his NHL debut on February 3, 2003 against the New Jersey Devils; the game would be the only time he would don an Ottawa sweater. On February 18, the Senators traded Laich to the Capitals for longtime Capitals great Peter Bondra, who at the time was the Caps’ franchise leader in goals. The Capitsls, who had gotten off to a terrible start to the season, had begun their rebuilding process, trading their veteran players for prospects and draft picks. At the time, the Senators were a solid playoff team and figured Bondra could help them win the Stanley Cup.
Laich was immediately sent down to the Capitals’ then-AHL affiliate Portland Pirates, where in 22 games, he scored one goal and added three assists, and played in four games with Washington during the 2003-04 season.
Career With the Capitals
Laich made his debut with the Capitals on March 12, 2003, in which he recorded his first NHL point (an assist) and went on to play in the aforementioned three games (March 13, March 16, and April 1). With a labor lockout cancelling the entire 2004-05 NHL season, he spent the entire season with the Portland Pirates, scoring 16 goals and recording 10 assists in 68 games while finishing eighth on the team in scoring.
Laich began the 2005-06 season with the Caps’ new AHL affiliate Hershey Bears and in 10 games played with Hershey, scoring seven goals and adding six assists before being recalled to Washington, where he stayed for the rest of the regular season. He played in 73 games with the Caps, scoring seven goals and recording 14 assists. Once the Capitals’ regular season was finished, he was sent back down to the Bears to help them in their Calder Cup playoff push; he played 21 playoff games with the Bears, scoring eight goals in addition to seven assists, helping the Bears capture the Calder Cup. Laich played the entire 2006-07 season in Washington, during which he played in 73 games, scoring eight goals and adding 10 assists. After the season, Laich and the Capitals went to salary arbitration, where he was awarded a one-year contract worth $725,000.
In 2007-08, Laich’s play vastly improved and his role began to take shape. He played in all 82 games for the Capitals, scoring 21 goals and recording 16 assists for 36 points. Being reunited with Bruce Boudreau, who had coached him in Hershey, proved to be extremely beneficial for his development as a player as he was trusted in all situations on the ice. Laich’s 21 goals were the third-most on the team, after Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, though he led the team in shorthanded goals with two. Laich once summed up his philosophy towards scoring, saying, “If you want money, go to the bank. If you want bread, go to the bakery. If you want goals, go to the net.” Laich’s improved production helped the Capitals make a remarkable turnaround in the standings to propel them to the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the playoffs, Laich played in all seven games, scoring one goal and adding five assists (including a five-game point streak) as the Caps fell in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers.
In 2008-09, Laich proved his improvement from the previous season was no fluke, as he again played in all 82 games and improved in goals (23), assists (30), and points (53). Laich was normally a fixture on the second-line, but sometimes played on the third-line. When Alex Ovechkin returned to Russia for a week to be with his dying grandfather, Laich saw time on the first-line. With numerous injuries throughout the course of the season to many of the team’s “Top 9” forwards, he ended up playing more minutes as a result, and was an important part of both the power play and the penalty kill. Like Laich, the team itself proved that the second half of their previous season was no fluke, as they won the (now defunct) Southeast Division with 108 points and the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, only behind the Boston Bruins’ 116 points. Laich scored three goals and recorded four assists in 14 games in a playoff run in which the Capitals defeated the New York Rangers to advance beyond the first round but fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.
2009-10 was an even better season for Laich on the offensive front, as he scored 25 goals and added 34 assists for 59 points, missing only four games due to a facial injury (which snapped a consecutive games played streak). The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy with 121 standings points, the best in their history. Laich was one of seven forwards on the team who scored more than 20 goals in 2009-10, but their production in the playoffs was disappointing, as the team fell in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens. Laich did score the last goal for the team in the series, but recorded only two goals and one assist in seven games.
2010-11 was another productive season for Laich, although it was a slight drop from the previous three, as he scored 16 goals and added 32 assists. The Capitals themselves had the best record in the Eastern Conference, despite a prolonged losing streak at one point during the season. In the playoffs, the Capitals beat the Rangers in the first round in five games, but were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. After the season, Laich signed a six-year contract worth $27 million total and $4.7 million per year.
The Caps’ disappointing playoff performances led to changes in how the team operated before the 2011-12 season. While the team retained Boudreau as coach, the overall team culture became tougher, which resulted in a role change for Laich, as he, Jason Chimera, and offseason acquisition Joel Ward comprised a checking line. Despite less time on the second-line, Laich still managed to score 16 goals and record 25 assists for 41 points. The Capitals fell into a losing skid during November, which resulted in Boudreau’s firing and subsequent replacement by former Capital Dale Hunter. The Caps finished second in the division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. The team played the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In a very low scoring series that featured four overtime games, the Capitals defeated the Bruins in seven games, and then fell to the Rangers in seven games in the second round.
During the lockout of 2012-13, which wiped out a portion of the NHL season, Laich played for the Kloten HC Flyers in the Swiss-A League, scoring six goals and adding 12 assists in 19 games. However, Laich injured his groin during this stint and returned to the United States for medical treatment. When the NHL season finally began, he was limited to just nine games as a result of the injury and did not play in the playoffs, as he underwent surgery for his groin, ending his season. The groin injury would prove to be a turning point for Laich’s career.
The 2013-14 season was another injury-plagued season for Laich, as he had a recurrence of the groin issues that had sidelined him the previous season. This time, he managed to play 51 games, scoring eight goals and recording seven assists. As had happened the previous season, he underwent season-ending surgery for the adductor. With Laich out, then-General Manager George McPhee traded one of the Capitals’ two first-round picks of the 2012 draft, Filip Forsberg, to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat, a 31-year old winger and forward prospect Michael Latta, one that would prove to be one of, if not the, worst in franchise history.
Laich’s 2014-15 was a relatively healthy one, aside from a shoulder injury, but it was clear his productivity hadn’t returned to its once copious level. In a year that saw the Capitals return to the playoffs and fall in the second round, Laich played in 66 games, scoring seven goals and adding 13 assists for 20 points in the regular season and adding a goal and assist in the playoffs.
The 2015-16 season proved to be Laich’s last with the Caps. While he played 60 games, he scored just one goal and added just six assists in a fourth-line role, while earning the salary of his second-line heyday. With low productivity and a high salary, the team placed Laich on waivers at the trade deadline. While there were no “takers”, he remained with the team. However, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs (along with defenseman Connor Carrick), in exchange for veteran forward Daniel Winnik, who made roughly $2 million less, saving the Capitals money.
During his career with the Capitals, Laich played in 742 games, scoring 133 goals, and adding 191 assists for 324 points. He currently ranks ninth in franchise history in Games Played, 19th in Goals, 25th in Assists, and 24th in Points. Laich would go on to call his return to Washington (in which he was greeted with a tribute and standing ovation from the Capitals and their fans) the “most humbling moment” of his career.
Remainder of NHL Career
Laich went from a first-place, Stanley Cup hopeful in Washington, to a last place team in Toronto. One of the reasons that Laich was attractive to the Leafs was the potential for him to provide leadership to their upcoming core of young players.
For the remainder of the 2015-16 season, Laich played 21 games with the Leafs, scoring once and recording six assists. One of Laich’s assists came on then-rookie William Nylander’s first NHL goal on March 5, 2016. On April 5, 2009, Laich had assisted on the last NHL goal of William’s father, Michael.
After the season, there was speculation that Laich could play a leading role for the young Maple Leafs. However, the team ultimately sent him to their AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, prioritizing the development of their young core. The Marlies, however, also prioritized development of their remaining Leafs’ prospects; as a result Laich ended up playing in only 27 games, none after March 8. The Leafs placed him on waivers on February 21, 2017, but he went unclaimed.
Laich went unsigned during the summer of 2017 as a free agent. He accepted a tryout offer with the Los Angeles Kings to attend their training camp. Despite suffering an injury, Laich returned to impress in the preseason, but was released prior to the start of the regular season. When the Kings suffered a series of injuries early in the regular season, however, he signed a one-year contract for $650,000 on October 17. Laich ended up playing in 12 games with the Kings, recording one assist. He was placed on waivers on November 25 but went unclaimed, and the Kings tried to assign him to their AHL affiliate Ontario Reign. Laich opted not to report to the Reign; and he and Los Angeles agreed to terminate his contract two days later, ending Laich’s NHL career.
During the summer of 2017, Laich married his girlfriend, singer-actress Julianne Hough, after a two-year engagement. Laich and Hough began a charity project called Love United, which aims to bring sufficient drinking water to developing countries. Laich has pursued other entrepreneurial ventures, including a workout app program called Open Gym. During the summer of 2019, Laich and Gavin DeGraw started a series of podcasts titled “What Men Want”.
Bio of Laich from Hockey Hall of Fame Web Site
Former Capital Brooks Laich Says Return to Washington The Most Humbling Moment of His NHL Career
SafariLAICH: Former Capital Brooks Laich and Wife Julianne Hough Visit, Watch, and Participate in Online Live African Safari
A Heartfelt Farewell for Brooks Laich at Verizon Tonight
Former Capital Brooks Laich to attend Los Angeles Kings Training Camp on PTO
Statistics from Hockeydb.com, NHL.com, and Quanthockey.com
By Diane Doyle