ARLINGTON, Va. – Forget, for a moment, the anticipation of opening night. The best entertainment at the Washington Capitals media day came when Brooks Laich told stories about his forgotten paycheques.
When the 28-year-old forward was asked Thursday about his decision to re-sign with Washington as a free agent this summer, his response included the often-repeated: “I’ve never played for money.”
But Laich added some credence to the cliche when he said: “I’ve found paycheques in my truck.”
That needed an explanation.
“There’s been twice that I’ve done that,” Laich said. “One time, my first year in Washington, we got a paycheque somewhere in February, then we went on the road for a week and I didn’t want to take it with me, so I put it in my glove compartment. And I got sent to (minor league affiliate) Hershey for the playoffs.
“And I was going to Blockbuster in, like, June during the Calder (Cup) finals, and I was looking for my Blockbuster card, and I opened my glove compartment and there was a paycheque in there from February.”
Then Laich told the about the other one.
“I’ll never forget it. It was my first bonus cheque when I was 19 years old and it was for (US)$46,000,” he said. “And I got it, and I looked at it, and my first thought was ‘This is too much money, I can’t accept this.’ And I just put it in my closet in my apartment.
“About a month later, my mom phoned me and she said ‘What have you done with your money?’ And I said ‘Oh, I don’t even know where it is.’ I had to search my apartment. And she said ‘Put that thing in the bank.’ I just didn’t know what to do with it. It was more money than I had ever seen. Now I have direct deposit, so I don’t have to worry about that stuff.”
Good move, since Laich makes quite a bit more these days.
His new contract is for $27 million over six years. He was brought to the Capitals by general manager George McPhee during the 2003-04 season, the start of the long and lean rebuilding period, and is now part of a team that’s won four consecutive Southeast Division titles and will be disappointed with anything less than the Stanley Cup trophy.
“It was what we were told, and credit to George and the plan that they had laid out when I came onboard,” Laich said. “The plan that we were told from Day One, we were going to bring up a young group of guys. Maybe for a little bit you’ll take your licks, but eventually one day you’ll be a real good hockey team. They’ve been true to their word, so it’s time for us to reward them.”
McPhee is a rare constant in the D.C. sports scene, having been the Capitals’ GM since 1997. That means he’s survived an ownership change, a lockout, the decline of the franchise after the Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1998 and the subsequent rise centred around two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin. The only player, coach, owner or other major front office official with that kind of staying power in the nation’s capital is D.C. United president Kevin Payne, who has been involved with the MLS franchise since 1996.
McPhee feels this season’s Capitals represent the most complete team he’s assembled. Five major pieces were added over the summer to an already strong core, and only one roster spot was genuinely up for grabs during training camp.
“That is ideally the way you’d like to have it,” he said. “If you don’t have jobs available, it should mean that you’ve got a pretty good club.”
The one significant bit of suspense heading into the opener Saturday against Carolina is the status of Ovechkin, who went home to Moscow earlier this week following the death of an uncle. Coach Bruce Boudreau said Ovechkin is expected back in Washington on Friday, but it’s unclear whether his star player will be fit or otherwise ready for the first game.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, there’s the full expectation that the Capitals again will be one of the top teams in the NHL. Again, it’s time to wonder if this is the season when all that talent wins it all.
“This team has performed very well,” McPhee said. “We’ve won four straight division titles, the Presidents’ Trophy, (regular season) conference championship.
“But we all want more. Obviously. We all want to win the big one.”