While the rest of the hockey world lays their personnel interests to rest until the Stanley Cup Finals are over, it appears the Washington Capitals have been using their off time to work on roster tweaks, exactly one month before free agency begins. They broke the non-draftee signing waters by inking Mattias Sjogren of Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League to a two year contract.
Two of the Caps’ three first-round Swedes have worked out pretty well for the team to the tune of first- and sometimes second-line centers in Nicklas Backstrom and rookie Marcus Johansson. Sjogren is a forward who can play either center or wing. He accumulated seven goals and 17 points in 51 regular season games. The 23 year-old also helped Sweden to a silver medal at the World Championships this year.
Sjogren is described as a gritty player who is physical, but also has the ability to finish. Sound familiar? It should for Caps fans: he’s the Swedish Brooks Laich.
Laich shrugged off questions about his return to the Capitals all season long, and again in exit interviews. He has been giving vague answers and saying things like “Ultimately, it’s not in my hands.” Laich has been openly frustrated with the lack of championships the Caps have been able to cash in on the last few years, and he will likely be one of the more sought after players should he go to free agency July 1st.
After negotiating his current contract three years ago, Laich mentioned in an interview with Comcast Sports Net’s Lisa Hillary that the process was painful. He implied that management had said some hurtful things about him, trying to get his talents at the lowest possible price. Management and coaching staff have always praised Laich for his work ethic and leadership, but it might be time for the two to part ways.
The signing of Sjogren is just the latest that indicates Laich’s days in DC are numbered. The Caps have already extended contracts for players Matt Hendricks and Mike Knuble, two guys who have similar styles to Laich. With their signings and some of the rookies the Caps are looking to bring up like Jay Beagle, Laich suddenly becomes dispensable.
This signing may be the nail in the coffin for Laich. The Caps need cap space if they want to bring back Karl Alzner and Semyon Varlamov next year, and a few top-notch prospects have deals expiring as well. Laich will likely command a salary somewhere in the 3-4 million range on the open market, and the Caps may not have it left. Sjogren could be their backup plan should nothing come of the Laich negotiations.
It will be hard to get more information on when the roster will look like next year until free agency, but sizable changes for the Caps should be expected. One early exit is a fluke. Three straight is something the organization and fan base won’t stand for without significant alterations, and Laich may be part of that.