Eight Years AfterPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Eight years ago today, the Capitals announced that they had traded left wing Peter Bondra to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a minor league forward named Brooks Laich and a second-round draft choice in 2004. The deal was met with anguish from Capitals fans, and understandably so. Bondra was one of the league’s most dynamic players throughout the 1990s, and he is Washington’s all-time leader in both goals (472) and points (825). “I was in Binghamton playing for the Binghamton Senators and we were having a morning skate,” remembers Laich of that Feb. 18, 2004 morning. “I can’t remember who we were playing that night. But I had the bottom half of my gear on and I got called down to [then-Binghamton head coach] John Paddock’s office. “He said, ‘I can’t let you go on the ice for morning skate.’ I asked why, and he said, ‘You’re about to be traded.’ I just kind of sat back in my chair and said, ‘Do you mind if I ask where?’ And he said, ‘You’re probably going to go to Washington.’ And then he said, ‘You’re going to be traded for Peter Bondra.’ “I was a big fan of Peter’s growing up and he was a tremendous player. My eyes just opened up. And then I thought about leaving the organization and the whirlwind of change. It was a pretty emotional day, actually.” Laich had been Ottawa’s sixth-round choice (193rd overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, a home-run draft class for the Senators that also included Jason Spezza, Tim Gleason, Ray Emery, Christoph Schubert and Brandon Bochenski. At the time of the trade, Laich was in the midst of his first professional season. “At that point I had been drafted by the Ottawa Senators and had been to a couple of development camps and one main camp with Ottawa. When you get drafted by a team, you kind of tattoo yourself as part of that organization. You foresee yourself in their jersey, helping that organization win. And then when that gets all of a sudden changed, you have to change your allegiance right away. Something you’ve believed in for three years all of a sudden changes. “When I was traded, Ottawa had a very good team, a Cup-contending team. And I was coming to a rebuilding team. So as a young guy, it was probably the best opportunity I could have had to make the NHL.” Fifteen days before the deal, Laich had made his NHL debut with the Senators in a game at New Jersey. It’s the only NHL contest he has played not wearing a Capitals’ sweater. Once the deal went down, it was natural for Laich to wonder whether that one-game NHL audition with the Senators was a showcase for interested clubs. “I asked that question,” admits Laich. “I asked John that. And he said, ‘No it wasn’t you got called up on merit.’ I’d been playing good hockey at that time. “I remember the day before I got called up was the Super Bowl. And [ex-NHLer] Jody Hull, who was a player/assistant coach [with Binghamton] said, ‘Hey, take it kind of easy at the Super Bowl party here.’ And I said, ‘Why? It’s the Super Bowl.’ And he said, ‘Just take it easy.’ “So I sort of had an idea that maybe something was in the works. I certainly hope that it wasn’t just an audition to move me as trade bait or something. I’d like to believe that my first NHL game was based on merit and not just a showcase.” After learning of the deal, Laich had to pick up his life and move to Portland, Maine where Washington’s top AHL farm affiliate was based in those days. Laich also got a four-game trial with the Capitals in March of 2004. “I got traded and packed up and left that day and went to Portland, drove to Portland,” remembers Laich. “I actually played that night for Portland. We were on the road, but I played that night. And I was also able to play a couple of games in Washington. “I remember walking in my first day in Washington and [Caps general manager] George McPhee shaking my hand and saying, ‘Welcome to Washington, we’re glad to have you and I hope you’re here for 15 years.’ That opened my eyes that this was a team that really wanted me and hopefully I had found a new home. “It was only four games I got in before the lockout with Washington. Then we had the lockout, and ever since I’ve kind of been here. Looking back, eight years ago today was a very drastic change in my life and a turning point certainly in my life. It’s pretty interesting actually how things have worked out.” Now, Laich is more than halfway through those 15 years. He has played more games (531) in a Capitals sweater after the lockout than any other player. After signing a six-year deal with Washington last summer, Laich will be knocking right on the door of that 15-year plateau if he remains with the Capitals throughout the life of that pact. “Loyalty is something George is amazing at,” says Laich. “For him to say that to me that early on and stick to it and keep me here – there has been a lot of changeover of certain guys – to still be part of it, I’m really thankful for that. “And you look around and Brock Myles, our equipment guy is here. He was a part of the organization in the minors [in Portland]. It shows that George is a loyal guy to people around him. Loyalty is something I put a huge amount of stock in. When the option came up to re-sign, I definitely jumped at it.” With 265 points (110 goals and 155 assists) in a Washington sweater, Laich is bubbling just under the team’s all-time top 25 in scoring. The Capitals drafted Bondra in the ninth round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, and that choice proved to be a steal. Laich’s presence in D.C. makes it the gift that keeps on giving.
Washington enjoyed a much needed day off on Sunday; the Caps are in the midst of a stretch where they play six times in nine nights and can use the rare rests they’ll get during that span. While the Capitals were idle, the out of town scoreboard produced a mixed bag of results. Bruce Boudreau’s