It looked as if Brooks Laich's career may be coming to an end last season. Stuck in the AHL, Laich expressed his desire to "pursue a Stanley Cup somewhere else." The Toronto Maple Leafs placed him on waivers allowing other teams to claim him, but there were no takers. Finally, his season came to an end in April after elbow surgery. He had played in just 27 AHL games and none in the NHL.
But now it looks as if Laich will be getting another shot to show he can still contribute at the NHL level.
Laich, 34, told Joshua Kloke of The Athletic in February that, "Physically and mentally, I feel as youthful and as energetic as any kid that walks in the door. I feel like I’m younger than the 20-year-old kids. I have passion for the game. You might call me crazy, but I still feel like my best days of hockey are ahead of me. ... I still feel I have many, many years left to play.”
What will certainly help Laich's chances of making a return to the NHL is the fact that he is no longer dealing with a massive contract. In 2011, Capitals general manager George McPhee signed Laich to a six-year, $27 million deal. That $4.5 million cap hit became a hindrance to the Caps leading to the team trading him in 2016. That cap hit was far too high for any team to seriously consider taking a player who had been relegated to the AHL all season last year.
Now Laich will be heading to the Kings camp on a PTO with no guarantees or contract in hand.
Traded to Washington in 2004, Laich spent 12 seasons with the Caps scoring 133 goals and 324 points. He was a solid contributor until a groin injury he suffered while playing overseas during the 2012-13 lockout derailed his career. Prior to that, Laich played in 73 or more games for seven straight seasons with a career-high of 59 points. Since then, he has only played in more than 73 games once and his high in points is 24.
Laich will reportedly have some competition in Los Angeles as the Kings will also over PTOs to Brandon Prust, Chris Lee and Andrei Loktionov.
Lars Eller did not practice on Monday, and coach Barry Trotz shuffled his injury-depleted defense corps.
Here’s how everyone lined up:
Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Graovac – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson
Orpik – Bowey
Djoos – Carlson
Orlov – Chorney
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Some notes, quotes and observations from KCI:
- Trotz said Eller showed up sick and was sent home to recover and avoid spreading whatever he’s got. Trotz also isn’t sure whether the veteran center will be able to suit up against Toronto on Tuesday. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t answer that right now. We’ll see where his energy level is.”
- The coaching staff shuffled the D-pairs with speedy Toronto coming to town. But Trotz also cautioned not to read too much into the tandems, since they’re likely to change throughout Tuesday’s game. Trotz even hinted that a final decision on which six D-men will suit up had not yet been made. “They’re going to be shuffled from now until we get people back,” Trotz said, referring to the injured Matt Niskanen, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury. “There are pairs for practice. There are pairs for parts of games. It’ll be a little bit situational.”
- If defenseman Taylor Chorney does get back into the lineup, he knows that he needs to make a positive impression after sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. “I’ve been through this quite a bit over the last couple of years, but at the same time you probably want to make a little bit of a statement,” he acknowledged. “So for me, if I do get the opportunity to play, it would be a big game.”
- Speaking of the Leafs, they’re off to a 4-1-0 start with Auston Matthews (5 goals, including two OT winners) leading the way. Overall, Toronto is averaging a league-leading 5.2 goals per game. As you might imagine, Trotz had a lot of praise for last season’s first round opponent in general and Matthews specifically. “If he was playing 20 years ago, we’d be saying he’s Mario Lemieux-like,” Trotz said. “He’s six-foot-[three]. He skates great. He’s got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q. and he’s strong on the puck.”
- As Washington attempts to turn the page from Saturday’s 8-2 clunker in Philly, Trotz said one area he’d like to see shored up is the number of shots the Caps have been allowing. Through six games, they’re yielding 34.5 shots on goal per game (tied for ninth most). Last year, they allowed 27.8 (fourth best). “We’re not as structured defensively,” Trotz said. “We haven’t put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We’ve put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now we have to get a little more balance. …We have to get that back into balance; we practiced some of that today.”
- As you may remember, Madison Bowey’s father, Will, jumped on the first flight out of British Columbia that he could find in the hopes of catching his son’s NHL debut Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. As it turned out, though, he experienced a couple of travel delays and didn’t make it. Dad will, however, be in attendance Tuesday night.
MORE CAPS: Nicklas Backstrom shines among NHL's top stars
Nicklas Backstrom has been the Capitals’ best player so far this season, according to coach Barry Trotz. And he was recognized for his play on Monday when the NHL named him third star of the week.
No one had more points over the past week than the Caps’ star center, who racked up three goals and six assists in four games.
Trotz praised Backstrom for his point production — and his play on the other side of the puck.
“He’s been really good,” Trotz said. “Nick has been all business. He’s playing very well. He’s been our best player, no question, with balance in his game. Nick’s balance in his game is really good—on my soap box again—and that’s what makes him one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. ”
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Last season, Backstrom didn’t get his third goal until the 16th game (en route to a 23-goal campaign). In six games this season, the 29-year-old has three goals and eight helpers.
First star of the week was Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, two assists), while Toronto center Auston Matthews (four goals, including two OT winners) received second star honors.
On Tuesday at Capital One Arena, it’ll be second star versus third star as Matthews and the Leafs take on on Backstrom’s Caps.
MORE CAPS: How the Caps flopped in Philly