In the weeks leading up to free agency, there has been a lot of chatter about how Brooks Laich would be an ideal signing for the Habs on July 1st and why not?
Currently under contract with the Washington Capitals, Laich is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st should the Caps fail to re-sign him before then. Listed at 6'2" and weighing in at an even 200 lbs., Laich represents that missing component of size and grit, in a forward, that that Habs have been missing for several years. Of course, it's not just his size that matters but also his knack for getting into the dirty areas and his willingness to deliver a crushing hit to an opponents' D. If only Benoit Pouliot had some of the heart and edge that Laich possesses.
So, a forward with size and isn't afraid to use it and can put up some decent numbers offensively. Sounds like a match made in heaven? Not if you're asking me.
Brooks Laich is one of the most coveted forwards in this year's UFA class that is very thin. After Brad Richards and Teemu Selanne (who will only re-sign in Anaheim if he does return to play), there is a gap in points produced, to the next group of players, of which Laich belongs. If we then remove all the players who are moving past their prime and those who do not fit the power-forward profile, we're left with the oft-injured Erik Cole.
All of this just means that for what he gives you, Laich will be overpaid and not just in dollars but also on term. His agent will be looking for a minimum of a $4M per year deal that extends for 4 years. And the latter part is what I'd like most Habs fans clamoring for the organization to sign Laich to pay close attention to. If the Montreal Canadiens, were truly 1 power forward away from contending for the Stanley Cup, then it would be conceivable for them to over-commit to a player in that magnitude. However, they are not. And Laich is not a player to overspend on when you're current payroll already has 2 over-inflated contracts in Gomez and Spacek.
Worth it you say? Well, let's take a look at Laich's stats over the last few years. Over the last 3 years, Laich scored: 16, 25 and 23 goals while putting up 32, 34, and 30 assists respectively.
He's shown that he's a durable and relatively consistent performer. I would consider his offensive upside limited however especially considering that he was on a relatively offensive Caps team (excluding last year). His numbers also make me think of another player that the Habs currently have under contract - Andrei Kostitsyn. By comparison, his stats over the last 3 years show 20, 15 and 23 goals. He missed 24 games in 09/10 when he put up 15 goals.
I'm sure that fans would be calling for Gauthier's head (not that some aren't already doing so) if Habs management had signed Andrei Kostitsyn to a 4-year / $4M contract. In fact, many have made their displeasure known and this is a kid with more offensive upside than Laich. Although, I can see the added-value of Laich's grit, you cannot discount that Kostitsyn has tried to be a more aggressive player although hasn't done so on quite a consistent basis. The difference however, is talent. AK46's talent allows for the end-production to be awfully similar to that of Laich's.
So how will you feel when Laich goes through similar stretches of non-productiveness knowing that he is being paid $4M and that you're stuck with him for 4 years? Is Laich a big body that can help the Canadiens? Most definitely but he is not the ideal fit and due to the reasons outlined above I think the Habs would be better off passing on Brooks Laich and keeping the cap space for a better fit (via trade or via free agency next year). Let Max Pacioretty take a run at becoming the team's premier power-forward and let Kostitsyn (hopefully) have a chance to remain with the same line-mates and continue with his evolution into a hitting forward.
Hopefully, management has the foresight to envision the need to have cap space available for when that ideal fit comes into play.
What scares me, is that many of those fans that are screaming and yelling for the Habs to sign Laich will also be the same ones criticizing management for having offered Laich such a rich and long contract after a year or maybe two.
***Update: So the very next morning after I publish my first blog, the Washington Capitals make my whole posting moot by going ahead and re-signing Brooks Laich to a 6-year deal worth $4.5M annually! Be happy Habs fans that you're not stuck paying that much for that long to a 20-goal scorer, when you already have one that you pay only $3.25.***