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Laich out to prove his worth to Capitals


Laich out to prove his worth to Capitals

Brooks Laich says he doesn’t need any extra motivation from his coach or general manager or the scores of fans who want more production from the 32-year-old forward.

“I put more pressure on myself than anybody does,” said Laich, who has scored just 16 goals in his past three injury-riddled seasons.

“I’ve had good success here playing for this team and I want to get back to that level. I want to get back to leaving the rink and feeling the way I used to feel – not just being a part player but being a driving element on the team. I really feel my health is there, my legs are there.”

Laich’s career took a turn for the worse during the 2012-13 lockout when he injured his groin during the second year of his six-year, $27 million contract.  He played in just nine games for the Caps that season and was limited to eight goals in 51 games the following season.

Last season, an early shoulder injury limited Laich to seven goals in 66 games, a far cry from the 20-goal, 48-point averages Laich put up for the Caps from 2007-12.

“We have expectations for him and he has high expectations,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He did a really good job with that (Eric) Fehr line last year and did a great job on the penalty kill. We just need a little more production from him I think. He’s been a 40-50-point guy. He still skates well enough and he still has enough skill that he wants to be a more productive guy and find the back of the net.”

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Caps general manager Brian MacLellan was even more direct.

“We need more offense, more plays, more goals, more production from him,” MacLellan said. “He’s struggled through some injuries and we’ve been patient with him coming back and hopefully we get a little bit more out of him this year.”

To that end, Laich said he worked extensively on his hand skills over the summer, even reverting back to the curve on his stick that he used years ago.

“I still am fully confident in myself and my game,” Laich said. “That doesn’t change. I had a bumpy road with some injuries but this year coming to camp I’m 100 percent healthy. My legs feel great on the ice. I’m just excited to be back playing hockey and I want to get back to being the player that I expect of myself, the player I was known for around here and the player I want to be.”

Laich is starting off training camp centering a line with veteran left wing Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson and said he’s excited to go back to his roots as a centerman, even if it turns out to be a preseason experiment.

“I want a lot of responsibility,” he said. “I want to play with speed, shoot the puck, make my teammates better. I’ll have different assignments, but every night I want to have the mindset that even with defensive assignment I want to get shots and I want to get chances and ultimately produce. It’s a big year for myself. I have thought about it a lot and I have some goals in mind.”

Laich did not reveal those goals, but a 40-point season seems like a realistic one to set. But as the longest tenured professional athlete in D.C., there is another goal Laich is aching to achieve and that’s a Stanley Cup.

“There’s still a lot of hurt from last year,” he said. “I thought we really had a contending team and you’re one goal away from the conference final.

“Every year you exhale at the end of the season and when you come back it’s fresh air. There’s so much potential on this team. But we’re tired of talking about potential. We want to realize that and put results on the board.”

MORE CAPITALS: Burakovsky to start preseason as a center

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals


John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted the line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home in Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s also signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.


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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson


Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.