One of the many decisions facing new Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is whether he should use the final compliance buyout he inherited from outgoing general manager George McPhee.
As part of the NHL’s labor settlement last year teams were granted two compliance buyouts. The Caps used their first on defenseman Jeff Schultz last summer.
Among their candidates this summer are center Brooks Laich, who has three years and $13.5 million remaining on his six-year, $27 million contract, and defenseman Mike Green, who has one year and $6.083 million remaining on his three-year, $18.25 million deal.
Capitals assistant general manager Don Fishman said he does not anticipate the Capitals utilizing their final buyout, which must be made within 48 hours of the conclusion of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
To be bought out, Laich first would need to pass a physical. He failed a physical at the conclusion of the season and said last week that no one from the organization has asked him to report for another physical, which would need to be passed before the Caps could buy him out.
Two abdominal surgeries limited Laich to just 60 of the Capitals’ 130 games the past two seasons, but he says he’s optimistic he can return to being the player who missed just four games the previous five seasons.
“I feel really good,” Laich said, adding that he completed his post-surgical rehab three weeks ago and planned on beginning full offseason workouts today in Saskatchewan. “I’m very, very confident that come the fall I will be ready to rock and roll.”
Laich, who will turn 31 on June 23, said he still needs to work on his strength and his explosiveness but is hoping that three months of training will make as indestructible as he felt before the NHL lockout.
“I played through things you’ve never even heard of or were aware of and that’s still there,” Laich said of his warrior mentality. “The [injury] I ran into was a nuclear bomb. Two years of my life was a constant pain every day. To be out of it and to be able to move … I can go anywhere. For two years I felt like I was in a box.”
Laich is equally excited to see what kind of changes are in store for the Capitals under new coach Barry Trotz, who comes to Washington after 16 years in Nashville.
“The identity that preceded Mr. Trotz, and playing against his teams, and knowing some players that played for him, it sounded like he’s a great fit for what I felt we needed and others as well that I spoke to,” Laich said. “So we’re very, very excited.”
Laich said he spoke briefly with Trotz at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before Trotz and MacLellan were formally introduced as the Capitals’ new coach and GM.
“The first thing he said was, ‘We’re a good team, but there’s going to be changes,’” Laich said. “You guys gotta play better and we are going to do it together.
“Everything he said kept coming back to team and from there structure and discipline always follow. He comes in with a very respected voice, a guy with a proven track record. He coaches the right way and demands the right things from his players as far as habits in order to have continued success and ultimate success.”
Laich said he expects Trotz and MacLellan to demand the consistency, especially at practice, that was missing under Adam Oates the past two seasons.
“Consistency. Habits. Team. Structure. Discipline, Defense. Goaltending. Those are recipes for success,” Laich said, “and if you continually have those and speak it and act it, you set yourself up for a lot of success.
“We’ve been kind of up and down in the past. We weren’t the same team that practiced when we lost as when we won. If we lost we practiced hard. Sometimes when we won it was a little loosey goosey.
“You have to have a soldier attitude to continually get better and I think those two guys bring it. They’re no-nonsense, straightforward guys and I think they’ll set the tone and the rest of us will follow.”
As for a perceived disconnect between McPhee and Oates, Laich tried a little diplomacy.
“To be honest, it’s tough from our position as players,” he said. “So much happens behind the scenes that we’re unaware of. I think they keep that stuff pretty tight because the last thing you want if there is any of that stuff – I’m not saying there was, but if there was -- you don’t want it creeping into your team and then there’s no direction.”
Laich said he appreciated Caps owner Ted Leonsis giving players “a platform to voice our opinions” and hopes the information provided by players affects the change he believes is necessary to turn the Caps into a Stanley Cup team under Trotz.
“I watched the way they played in Nashville and they were tough,” he said. “They played as hard defensively as they did offensively. If you watched them on TV you couldn’t tell whether they were backchecking or forechecking because they skated just as hard back the ice as they did up the ice, and as a player who appreciates the 200-foot game, I’m excited to have a coach that demands that of everybody.
“There was solidarity throughout their team. There was nobody better than anybody else. Their top guys led the way and the rest followed. So when [Trotz’s] name was linked [to the Capitals] I kept thinking, ‘Can we get him? Can we get him?’ And we got him.”