With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 46 Michael Latta
Age: 25 (turns 26 on May 25, 2017)
Penalty minutes: 50
Time on ice: 8:05
Playoff stats: Did not play.
Contract status: Restricted free agent ($575,000 cap hit and salary in 2015-16).
Aside from Chris Brown, who played in one game for the Capitals, and Chandler Stephenson, who played in nine, no one on the Caps roster averaged less ice time this season than Michael Latta, a restricted free agent who enters a summer of uncertainty.
In the final year of a two-year, $1.15 million contract, Latta dressed in just two of the Capitals’ final 24 games of the regular season and was a healthy scratch in all 12 playoff games.
“You learn a lot about yourself when you’re not playing a lot,” Latta said. “You find ways to work every day and try to have a positive impact on the team. It was a tough year for me personally, but it was probably one of the best years of my life with this team and this group. I had so much fun. It’s a great group of guys and, honestly, we fell short. This was a special group and I kind of feel bad we missed an opportunity.”
The only piece remaining from the oft-criticized 2013 trade that sent center Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators, Latta set career highs in goals (3) and points (7) while playing in 41 of the Caps’ first 58 games. That would have put him on pace for six goals and 14 points in a full NHL season, but when the Caps signed veteran center Mike Richards as a free agent,Latta’s role diminished dramatically.
Latta remained in the lineup because of Jay Beagle’s broken wrist but when Beagle returned, he returned to the press box for the final two months of the season and all of the playoffs.
Latta did not begrudge the signing of Richards, who managed just two goals and three assists in 39 regular season games and no points in 12 playoff games, saying he learned a lot from watching the 31-year-old veteran.
“The little things that Richie does benefits a team,” Latta said. “You don’t really see it on the score sheet, but those loose pucks he gets, the blocked shots, the faceoffs he wins -- those little things ultimately lead to championships. Watching him day in and day out, he’s a special player.
“I’d love to have that (role) if I’m back here. I’d love to be similar to him. PK, faceoffs, I’d love to do that.”
But will he? With Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov also eligible for restricted free agency, the Capitals are likely to gauge the cost of signing them before deciding whether to offer Latta a new contract.
“He’s got to be frustrated,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think he’s a great teammate. Guys love having him around, coaches like him. I think the key for him is he’s got to bring something besides energy in that fourth-line role.
“He’s got to kill penalties, there’s got to be another dimension to his game for him to be successful in the league.”
With the Caps seeking a speedy third-line center and Jay Beagle slotted as a fourth-line pivot with Chandler Stephenson waiting in the wings, it is entirely possible the Caps retain Latta’s rights with a qualifying two-way offer, then attempt to trade him during the NHL draft June 24 and 25 in Buffalo.
“We’ll see,” Latta said. “We’ll figure it out. I’ll talk to Trotzy (Barry Trotz) and Mac (Brian MacLellan) and kind of see what their plans are for me. I’m not really sure what they’re thinking. We’ll take it a day at a time and go from there.
“It is what it is. We’ll see. I came to practice every day and showed up and worked hard and tried to be a good pro and not bring the team down. I tried to be a pro that way and hopefully it pays off with a new contract.”
If not in Washington, then maybe somewhere else.
MORE CAPITALS: 2015-16 SEASON IN REVIEW: BROOKS ORPIK