The case for Brooks Laich as a first line centre



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With the days being crossed off the June calendar as we head to the opening of free agency, we know that the Toronto Maple Leafs have, among their pressing needs, a requirement to get a first line centre for Phil Kessel.

The prevailing wisdom is that the Leafs would be best-served by signing unrestricted free agent Brad Richards, and, why not? Brad Richards is a terrific hockey player who lifts the games of his teammates and has a terrific shot, is effective on the powerplay and has won a Conn Smythe Trophy to boot after a terrific playoff run with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

However, there are two potential turn-offs:

#1 — Brad Richards is 31 years old and has not played 82 games in a season since 2007. He had 91 points in 80 games two seasons ago and 77 in 72 in the season he just came off.

#2 — Brad Richards is regarded to be the best UFA centreman on the market, so his cost will likely be higher than his value. For a rebuilding team, particularly the Maple Leafs, who are forced to eat a lot of money on lengthy, expensive deals to defensemen, it is not in the team’s best interest to overpay their forward corps and get stuck in the same rut. Considering the value Brian Burke got out of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin on the second line last season, he may be better off finding more “diamonds in the rough” and build the team a little less conventionally.

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In analyzing the numbers among centremen who played over 50 games this season, the name that popped up that is similar to Brad Richards in the way he was used by his team. This is Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals. Laich was a 2nd line centreman although started an identical percentage of his shifts (53.5%) in the offensive zone as opposed to the defensive zone. While it is to be expected playing alongside better teammates in Washington (his teammates averaged a 2.6 relative Corsi rating compared to Richards’ minus-3.2. This means that Laich’s teammates could be counted on for about 6 more shot attempts per 60 minutes than Richards’) Laich would be available for half the cost.

Laich had 16 goals last season shooting at just 7.7%. His on-ice shooting percentage at even strength was just 8.06% compared to Richard’s 10.7%. 67% of his points came at even strength to Richard’s 62%. With the same on-ice shooting percentage as Brad Richards, you could get 40 even strength points out of Brooks Laich. Placed in the right offensive situation (first line minutes with Kessel and Joffrey Lupul plus first line powerplay minutes) with the percentages tilting in his favour, 70 points is not too much of a stretch.

He isn’t the attractive superstar, but he’s a valuable commodity and will improve whichever team he signs with, at a price that won’t break the bank.

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  • So your opinion is that with a bigger role against harder opposition in Toronto than he sees in Washington Laich will score 50% more than he did this season?

    Pretty unlikely. I’d offer $1M for a year.

      • If Kessel gets a real centreman, ie. not Bozak, there’s no way teams ignore his line to focus on the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line.

        Kulemin’s shooting percentage will regress hard next season and make that unit more of a second line I think.

        Laich is a fine move if he’s brought in to be “Not Tyler Bozak” in much the same way as Joffrey Lupul is fantastic as “Not Joey Crabb”. But he’s not a #1C and Lupul’s not a #1LW.

  • Big Laich fan, but he isn’t a #1 C and would be much better suited as a #2 or a 2-3 hybrid C.
    Yes he has some offensive skill, but he is not the leafs answer. Most likely there answer comes from a trade, or string of trades OR kadri.

  • Oilers4ever

    With the coaching changes today, and not having an extension, I do believe Burke has fired a shot across Wilson’s bow. And I’m convinced that it has to do with certain younger high end players. Like Kadri, Bozak, et al not developing, & falling out of favour for Brent, Boyce, etc. Don’t get me wrong I like plumbers. I also like them more in the press box or a short call up from the Marlies better than dicking around higher talent.

    Toronto will not win this year. This year is about the playoffs and development.

    Everybody frets about who can get the puck to Phil the Thrill. Kadri can skate easily with him, is more creative, has better hands and is already one of the premier passers in the conference. We need to know what the kid can do this season. I say he has the skill base and confidence to be a star. A big star. The way that he handled Kadri was enough to fire Wilson’s butt, but I digress. Don’t worry about the D too much, those 2 are gonna have the puck 90% of the time anyway. If Lupol keeps going to the net (which he can) and the Leaf D play truculent behind them (which they will) the Gold Dust twins will have oodles of ice opened up, in addition to the space they make for themselves.

    Leave Grabbo’s line alone. Line up Armstrong and Frattin to play with Bozak on the 3rd line. They will bang, they will score… lots. Army and Boz to pk, Boz being the best draw man they have.

    For the 4th line, I role the dice, bring up Ross for LW, the kid plays like he was raised in a barbed wire factory. Brown on the other wing, Colbourne in the middle.

    Rosehill at Richoh strictly called up for injuries (no waivers). Orr in the press box with Boyce, both to be used against teams like Boston and Philly. Bring Rosehill up too if you can beat the waiver wire going back the other way.

    Unless he has some serious character flaw nobody talks about, sign White to both play 3rd D with Komisarik, and run the PP. Lashoff #7 guy in the pressbox. Send Lebda and Finger off to the upper Michigan penninsula to open a B&B.
    Smame top 4 on D as last year, of course.

    Hold off on the parade plans until 2012/2013.