Photo: Patrick McDermott
The tribute video was just over a minute long, but the ovation seemed endless. Brooks Laich’s teammates past and present stood and banged their sticks on the boards in recognition of his devoted service to the Washington Capitals and the game of hockey.
It began when he joined a last place team in February 2004 — Alex Ovechkin wouldn’t play his first game in Washington for another 20 months — and ended when he left in February 2016, with the Caps smashing NHL records with their eye on their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Laich’s trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs was billed as a salary dump, but it was one that left Washington’s general manager on the verge of tears. After Bruce Boudreau, Alex Semin, George McPhee, and Mike Green departed, Laich was one of the last of the Rock the Red, run-and-gun core that made hockey relevant in this town again.
“I wish the guys good luck,” Laich said when asked what he said the his former teammates during the tribute. “I looked down the bench and wished the guys good luck.”
Now Laich shifts from a team with 98 points to a team with 52. Relegated to fourth line minutes and penalty killing during his last season in Washington, Laich skated 14 minutes and 17 seconds against the Capitals on Wednesday, his highest total of the season. Over four minutes of that was spent on the power play, a role he no longer had in Washington.
“Laich has got a chance to help us and help our program because he’s a good man,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. “We got to get him his confidence back. I can’t give it to him — no one can. He’s got to earn it.”
For the Maple Leafs, there is still plenty to play for. They have the league’s worst record, but when Laich joined Leafs on Monday, seven other players were putting on Toronto’s jersey for the first time, four of them making their NHL debuts. Eventually, under the guidance of Babcock, general manager Lou Lamoriello, and president Brendan Shanahan, the Leafs hope to turn their young talent into Brooks Laichs: guys who rack up multiple 20 goals seasons and become beloved by their team and city.
“I know he wanted to be here in his whole heart with what we were trying to do here,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “[T]here’s a place where he can mentor a lot of young guys and really show his great qualities, they way he approaches the game, the way he prepares, he trains. He’s always doing the right thing, trying to get the team on the right path. I hope he does great things there.”
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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