Photo: Claus Andersen
At around 10:45 pm Daniel Winnik received a call that “shocked” him: he was traded from the from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the first place Washington Capitals. Within a half hour, Caps fans had the a similar reaction when they heard of the transaction. Brooks Laich, DC’s longest tenured athlete, who had played all but one game of his 743 game NHL career with the Capitals, was going the other way. Because of his loyalty to the organization, Laich was making $4.5 to skate on the fourth line. He had scored just one goal so far this season. And the Capitals made a decision to help their hockey team.
“I was a part of scouting him in the beginning, so it’s hard,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan, who said the 32 year old’s contract was “weighing us down” in terms of what the Capitals could do this offseason, said. “It’s frustrating, but we had to do what‘s necessary to keep the organization, keep the team going forward here.”
According to MacLellan, who was on the verge of tears multiple times when he discussed Laich with reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the Caps put the veteran forward on waivers on Saturday to try to rid themselves of his cap hit. There were no takers. The Maple Leafs, MacLellan, said were the only team willing to make a trade for him, on the condition they also get defensemen Connor Carrick, who Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello considers an ‘A’ grade prospect.
“We went back and forth on whether we wanted to give him up or not,” MacLellan said. “He’s been good, we like what he’s done in Hershey, and we project him to play in the NHL, but that’s what we had to give up to get the deal done.”
In return, Washington got Winnik, who brings four goals, 14 points, and a cap hit $2.25 lower than Laich’s to the Capitals. They also swapped their second-round pick in the 2016 draft for Toronto’s fifth-round selection.
“He’s a really good penalty killer, a pretty similar role to Brooks Laich,” MacLellan said of Winnik. “A bigger player, a heavier player, a pretty good skater. I would say he’s the equivalent of Brooks Laich, maybe a touch of an upgrade.”
The Caps GM said he expects Winnik, who at age 30 is signed for next year as well, to form a strong fourth line with Mike Richards and Jay Beagle.
“I don’t think Barry or the coaching staff is going to have any worries about putting them out in the defensive zone or playing against top lines,” MacLellan said. “I think it’s a pretty good luxury to have. All three of them are good defensive players and they’re always responsible, so I’m excited to see the fourth line.”
Winnik expects to arrive in Washington Tuesday night. He seems to enjoy the idea of making the jump from a team being sold for parts to the best team in the NHL.
“It brings more meaning to the games, that’s for sure,” he told reporters on a conference call. “Coming to a team that’s in a pretty cushy playoff position, you always just want to keep playing better and winning more games so we finish first in the East and hopefully win the Presidents’ Trophy as well.”
And, of course, he hopes to win other things as well.
“I think this is probably the deepest roster the organization has had, and that’s going to bode well,” Winnik said. “Not just that — goaltending goes a long way in playoffs and if Holtby just maintains that play, it should do us good.”
Monday night, Laich will take the ice at the Air Canada Centre, no longer a member of a team with a Stanley Cup in sight. On Wednesday, he will return to Washington, with his white Maple Leafs jersey hanging in a cramped visitors’s stall, just a few yards away from the red, white, and blue dressing room he called home for 12 years.
“It’ll be weird,” MacLellan said. “He probably hurts a lot.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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