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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why We Should Keep Brooks Laich

Two days ago, Head Coach Adam Oates announced that Brooks Laich would not be making the long trip to California with the rest of the team.  Instead, he would be heading to St. Louis to visit Dr. Michael Brunt, who would evaluate Brooks Laich's nagging groin injury.  The visit resulted in Laich getting a procedure done to release a tight abductor muscle, presumably ending his season.

It has been no secret that Laich has not been himself for the past two years since he's been dealing with this injury.  A healthy Laich can do it all, play on the power play and penalty kill, on a top line if need be, on the bottom lines, and even on the wing and center positions.  He's even played as a defenseman before.  He can do it all.  When not healthy, well, he still plays on the top line apparently.  He's an extremely valuable piece for the Washington Capitals.

Now, after the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), each team is allowed two compliance buyouts that can be used from the 2013 offseason (obviously that has already passed) and the 2014 offseason (obviously still in play).  Basically, the difference between a compliance buyout and a regular buyout is that teams can buyout a contract that they don't want to use anymore without the buyout counting against the cap, where as a normal buyout does.  It allows dumb general managers a "get out of jail free" card for dumb contracts they've signed.  Several teams have already used their compliance buyouts.  The Flyers bought out both Daniel Briere, who had a two years remaining on his contract, where he was going to be paid $5,000,000 and Ilya Bryzgalov, who was owed $36.75 million through the 2019-2020 season. Tampa Bay used it on Vincent Lecavalier, who was owed $45 million through the 2019-2020.  It's how we were able to sign Mikhail Grabovski, where Toronto used a compliance buyout on his contract, where he was owed $21.5 million through the 2016-2017 season, and it's how we got rid of Jeff Schultz, who was owed just $3 million on a one year contract.  You get the point of the compliance buyout.  So, this begs the question, do we use our final compliance buyout on Brooks Laich, who is owed $13.5 million through 2016-2017 ($4.5 million per year)?

I may be in the minority, but I say we don't necessarily have to.  Here's why.

The teams that are using these compliance buyouts either are doing so because of three points:  The player's contract is absurdly long and they are not performing at a high level, the players contract is too expensive, AND the players contract puts the team in a rough salary cap position.  Laich's contract does not do that.

Interestingly enough, the one exception I'd make to those points is Schultz.  Schultz announced he wanted out of Washington, and McPhee stated that "if you don't want to play for us, we'll move you."  Every team knew that McPhee wanted Schultz out, so no team was willing to trade for him because they knew one way or the other that Schultz would be out.  McPhee had no choice but to use a compliance buyout after saying that, so he booted Schultz out.  But, 9.5 times out of 10, it's for those above reasons.

By the way, this is assuming that Laich is considered healthy in the offseason.  Teams can't buyout the contracts of guys who are injured, which is why Boston can't buyout Marc Savard and Philadelphia can't buyout Chris Pronger.  While Laich's injury is not nearly severe as Savard and Pronger's, where both will more than likely never play in the NHL again, if Laich is deemed unhealthy during the compliance buyout window, which is only a week in late June to early July, he cannot be bought out of his contract according to the latest CBA, which, if you are extremely bored, can check out here.

But, even if he's not injured, I don't think we are in a dire situation where we must use the compliance buyout.  Next season, we have 22 players signed with a projected $13,736,538 in cap space (this is according to Capgeeks current roster, which won't exactly reflect next year's roster, more on that below).  Having 22 players already signed for next year is the most in the NHL.  To put that in perspective, the Flyers only 15 players signed for next year, with only $12,658,571 in projected cap space.  Keep in mind, an NHL roster consists of 23 players.  So, the Flyers need to sign…. well, they don't need to fill out the full 23 main roster, but realistically they do.  Anyways, for the eight remaining spots on their roster, they need to average a little over $1.5 million per player, which is awful.  Pittsburgh has 14 players signed, and though they have $2 million more than us in projected cap space, they can only average a little over $1.775 million per signing.  There are many other teams that are really pushing the cap with a low amount of signed players.  Those teams will need to use compliance buyouts or trade away assets.

Now, this $13,736,538 includes all of the players currently on the roster for the 2014-2015 season, meaning that Aaron Volpatti, Casey Wellman and Patrick Wey are included in this figure.  So, let's assume that the Caps will choose to demote those guys to the AHL (As Wellman and Wey regularly are, and Volpatti is pretty much done as a Capital).  That means, more realistically, we have 19 players signed with $15,501,538 in projected cap space.  With $15,501,538 in projected cap space for next season, let's take a look at our impending free agents.  Only Dustin Penner, Mikhail Grabovski and Jaroslav Halak are going to be unrestricted free agents.  And with the amount of money we are projected to have, we can realistically sign all of them if we want to.  Penner is making $2 million a year, which is a fair price for him.  He won't rise above $3 million if we wanted to keep him for another year.  Grabovski made $3 million from us this year.  His situation is pretty unique.  He has been injured for a pretty decent chunk of the season, and he is set to make $1,791,667 million dollars from Toronto until the 2020-2021 season due to his compliance buyout.  So while he's only being paid $3 million from us, he's actually making $4,791,667 per year.  Would he be willing to sign for less than his value, knowing he is already guaranteed $1,791,667 per year?  I would think yes, and I would think another signing at $3 million per year is fair.  Halak may ask for an increase in salary if he believes he can be the starter.  His cap hit was $3.75 million this year.  I would expect that to jump to $4 to $4.5 million to realistically sign him again, if we even want to re-sign him.  So, according to math, that's around $9.5 million in resigning our UFA's.  That still leaves us with about $6 million in projected cap space.  This gives us freedom to bring up Andre Burakovsky if we think he's ready, Michael Latta (who will be a restricted free agent) and pretty much any other AHL player, freely.

And while you could make the argument that buying out Laich's contract frees up even more space to sign a couple of quality defensemen, I ask you one question…who?  Who could we sign?  Look at the upcoming free agent defensemen at the UFA level.  I see a lot of old defensemen that are past there prime.  A large chunk of these guys will just re-sign with their team.  And why is Washington a place these guys want to go?  I wouldn't know the answer to that.  And even if we do want to sign one of these guys, we can still realistically afford it without buying out Laich.

Getting rid of Laich doesn't necessarily benefit us greatly in any sort of way.  It is a risk to keep him, and McPhee is greatly going to have to weigh the pros and cons of the decision.  The way I see it, if we keep him, we run the risk that he won't ever be healthy, and it will effect us until the 2017 offseason.  But if he is healthy, we have a leader that can play all sides of the puck.  If we get rid of him, we gain $4.5 million dollars in cap space that we don't necessarily need, but would be understandably nice to have.  That's just the way I see it.  Regardless, it's going to be a tough decision for McPhee to make if Laich is ruled healthy during the compliance buyout period.  But, I say Laich stays.

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