Tuesday, September 21, 2010

30 Caps in 30 Days: Brooks Laich

During the thirty days of September, I'll be trying to preview the seasons of thirty players currently under contract with the Washington Capitals and who have a good chance of spending some time in red, white, and blue this season. Advanced stats are given from behindthenet.ca ranked against other players at the same position--forward, defense, or goalie--in the same organization, at 5-on-5, unless otherwise noted. Age is on opening night. Teammates are those listed at 10% or greater and at even strength (though the percentage includes all manpower situations). Today, Brooks Laich)
Brooks Laich: age 27, 6'2", 210 pounds, shoots left.
Contract: $2.4 million with a $2.07 million cap hit, UFA in 2011, per Capgeek.
2009-2010 linemates: 18% Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin, 10% Brendan Morrison and Alexander Semin
2010 playoff linemates: 19% Brendan Morrison and Alexander Semin, 16% Eric Fehr and Brendan Morrison, 10% Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin

2009-2010 raw stats:
NHL: 78 GP, 25-34-59, +16, 222 shots, 34 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 2-1-3, -2, 21 shots, 4 PIM

2009-2010 advanced stats: 10th in Corsi QoC, 3rd in Corsi Rel QoC, 6th in Corsi QoT, and 7th in Corsi Rel QoT. Zonestart 50.6% offensive zone (tenth) with Zonefinish 49.2% offensive zone (eleventh).
2010 playoffs advanced stats: 9th in Corsi QoC and Corsi Rel QoC, 4th in Corsi QoT, and 5th in Corsi Rel QoT.

(Photo courtesy Caps Snaps)

WOWY (yellow is how much better the player is with Laich, green how much better Laich is with the player)

(Off topic note: is John Carlson awesome or what? He seems to raise everyone's Corsi%)
(Off topic note #2: Mike Green needs to work on not getting his shots blocked. Here his Fenwick% is below 50%, but a crazy amount of blocked shots by the other team brings his Corsi% up above 50%. This isn't the first time I'm noticing this trend)

To be honest, I was heartbroken and quite angry at George McPhee for trading my hero Peter Bondra to Ottawa for this guy I'd never heard of named Brooks Laich. In hindsight, that trade was pretty decent from the point of view of the Capitals. Laich has turned into a reliable, hard-working leader for a maturing team, as well as a big fan favorite (not just because of his good looks, though they no doubt help him garner support within certain demographics).

Laich in the basic statistics does pretty well. He has scored 20 goals three years in a row now, and each year has improved both his goal and assist totals as well as his plus-minus. Looking at some of his other numbers over the past year, though, I've not been terribly impressed. Laich each of the last three years has scored a little under half of his goals on the power play, and in fact his goals per sixty minutes of 5-on-5 time in 2009-2010 was a little less than Matt Bradley's. His Corsi% is only a little above 50%, and in fact his Fenwick% is only 49.5% (Fenwick% is better to use than Corsi% given large sample, but for sake of consistency I won't make the switch in these previews). His relative Corsi was negative in 2009-2010, and in 2008-2009, and in 2007-2008. His goals-against-per-sixty at 5-on-5 was 2.43, just a bit better than Tyler Sloan and high among regular Capitals, and he was also worse than the median on the team in the two previous seasons. While he was scoring a lot on the power play, the Caps' power play was still scoring goals at a faster rate without Laich than with him. Laich was also taking penalties at the same rate as he was drawing them (just like the much-maligned-for-penalties Alexander Semin). At a cap hit slightly north of $2 million, I thought Laich was replaceable and overpaid. As of late, I haven't been laichin Laich.

Digging a bit deeper for this preview, though, I thought I was warming up to Laich once more. He faces some of the tougher competition among the Capitals, for example, going from middling in 2007-2008 to fifth in 2009-2010 in Corsi Rel QoC. His Corsi Rel QoT hasn't been better than middling on the Capitals over the past three years, either. His 50-50 Zonestart hasn't helped much, either. He was one of the Caps' better penalty killers as well.

Then, I came across some more numbers. As it turns out, Laich's good numbers are a bit of a facade. Like Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich faced much, much easier competition at 4-on-5 than other Caps--at least Backstrom didn't have the benefit of strong teammates too. While Laich got tougher competition in 2008-2009, his even strength play couldn't keep up (though a low PDO probably contributed some).

Which good parts of Laich will we see, and what bad parts? I don't really know. He's been all over the place in terms in terms of what competition he faces, his quality of teammates, and shooting percentage. I think Laich is one of those players that gets the same results regardless of competition, sort of like Scott Gomez, Travis Zajac, and Stephen Weiss. Laich I don't think will become a consistent 30 goal scorer, but he doesn't look like he'll fall much, either.

Laich doesn't look like a good fit on the second line, as its Corsi suffers with Laich (with Alexander Semin, the second line should be aiming for around 54% in Corsi, not 50%) , but he's a solid third-line winger. I fully expect Eric Fehr to take the then-vacant second-line winger spot (with Fleischman on the third line). That's not necessarily a bad thing, as Fehr is a good rate-statistic player who could use some more TOI and a soft-minutes line of Fleischmann-Perreault/Johansson-Laich should do pretty well for itself, especially with a guy like John Carlson on the blueline at the same time.

I think more of the same is what we'll see--around 80 games played, 22-32-54, with a single digit minus rating. Combine that with his leadership and altruism-on-one-of-the-worst-days-of-his-life abilities, and I'm Laichin' Laich once again.

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