Should the Caps Buyout Brooks Laich's Contract?Posted on March 13, 2014 by Ben Bruno
Let's get this out of the way. This post is not intended to
bash Brooks Laich by any means. I think he's a solid player and believe that he
goes 100% every game, whether he actually feels 100% or not. To paraphrase what
Craig Laughlin said on Monday night's broadcast against the Penguins, Laich is
the straw that stirs the Capitals' drink and gets this team moving. He's been
playing great since the Olympic break ended, so it may seem like a strange time
to bring this up, but should the Caps buyout his contract?
The Caps have one "compliance buyout" remaining that if they choose to, has to be used by this summer (the first was used on Jeff Schultz), meaning that they can buyout the contract of a player without it counting against the salary cap. They follow the same structure as a "contract buyout", which I will explain below. A "compliance buyout" is option A, with option B being a "contract buyout".
Before we get into Laich's contract, let me quickly explain what a "contract buyout" entails. Again, the only difference between this and a "compliance buyout" is that contract buyouts count against the cap. Basically teams are given the option to buyout the contract of a player for two-thirds of the value of the contract (if the player is over age 26, 1/3 if under 26), paid over a period that is twice as long as the remaining deal. (Click here for more details on how buyouts work.) Now what would this mean in the case of Brooks Laich? Not including the current season, Laich is under contract for three more seasons (through the 2016-17 season). His cap hit for each of those three seasons is $4.5 million a year. If the Caps chose to buy him out, they would pay him just under $1.4 million starting in the 2014-2015 season and ending during the 2019-2020 season. This also means that the Caps would save just over $3 million in 2014-15, $2.6 million in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, and actually be credited just under $1.4 million in the 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20 seasons. If you're already lost, the chart below will help explain things.
So now that you know what the impact on the cap would be from buying Laich out, let's look at how he's producing compared to other players in the NHL with the exact same cap hit. Laich makes $4.5 million this season, good for third most of any Caps forward, and fourth highest on the team. The chart below shows every player with a $4.5 million a year cap hit. You will see that only three players have less points on the season than Laich, and all of them have played in less games. Going beyond just this season, there is only one player on this chart who has a lower points-per-game total for their career than Laich. You can argue that Laich has been banged up all year, but no one on this chart is producing (this season or for their career) at an incredible rate, and regardless, Laich is still underperforming when compared to his salary peers. It should also be pointed out that six of his 15 points on the season have come in his last six games, so while he's been playing much better as of late, his numbers looked that much worse not too long ago.
Through the moves that GM George McPhee made prior to the trade deadline, the Caps have roughly $15 million in available cap space going into next season, with only Mikhail Grabovski, Dustin Penner, and Jaroslav Halak as unrestricted free agents after this season. This is plenty of money to re-sign all three of these players should McPhee chose to do so (although I bet he lets Halak walk) and still have some left to sign a free agent. This means that the money saved through buying out Laich's contract is not necessary for McPhee to have some wiggle-room and therefore I don't see it happening. I personally would still do it because I wouldn't feel comfortable shelling out $13.5 million over three seasons to a player who isn't putting up points and has been significantly slowed by injuries.
Brooks Laich said in an interview yesterday with the Sports Junkies that his "definition of talent is the ability to win." From a fan's perspective I loved hearing this and wish every player on the Caps felt the same way. If you're not winning games, who cares if you're filling up the stat sheet. However, from a business standpoint, I can't convince myself that committing $13.5 million over the next three seasons to a player averaging under half a point-per-game for his career is justifiable because of his will to win. I hate the idea of taking money out of someone's hands - especially a player like Laich whose game I respect - but I want to have my cake and eat it too. Laich does all the little things right and has top-6 potential when he's healthy and playing well, so if you want to talk me into thinking Laich should not be bought out, maybe start there. Please convince me. I'm listening.
Vote in the poll below for if you think Laich should be bought out or not.