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Forward Brooks Laich signs six-year deal with Caps, avoids free agency

Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich celebrates after teammate Jason Arnott scored during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Verizon Center in Washington on Sunday, March 13, 2011.Laich is staying with the Washington Capitals.The forward signed a six-year extension just days before becoming an unrestricted free agent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jacquelyn Martin

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Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich celebrates after teammate Jason Arnott scored during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Verizon Center in Washington on Sunday, March 13, 2011.Laich is staying with the Washington Capitals.The forward signed a six-year extension just days before becoming an unrestricted free agent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON - Brooks Laich's durability and versatility landed him a US$27 million, six-year contract to remain with the Washington Capitals. Also returning: The refreshing candour that made him an unmistakable presence in the locker-room.

The 28-year-old forward's deal was announced Tuesday, keeping him off the open market when the NHL free agency period begins Friday.

"There was never a serious consideration to go anywhere else," said Laich, who agreed in principle to the deal before last week's draft so the Capitals wouldn't be tempted to start searching for his replacement.

Laich will earn $6.5 million next season in a front-loaded deal that averages out to $4.5 million per year.

That represents a raise on the $2.4 million the he earned last season, when he had 48 points (16-32) in 82 games.

Acquired from Ottawa in the Peter Bondra trade in 2004, Laich has become a steady, vocal member of the Capitals during their rise from a perennial last-place team to regular playoff contender.

With the ink barely dry on his new contract, he offered some thoughts on what has to change to get Washington past its string of post-season disappointments despite a star-laden lineup that includes Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.

"I think this year there's got to be a lot more accountability amongst our players to each other, and to the coaches," he said. "It's up to every single player—doesn't matter how much you make, or how long you're been here or what your name is—to practise as hard as they can, to practice as a team, to work as a team."

Laich said Tampa Bay was better at elevating its game when the Lightning swept the Capitals in the second round this year. That said, Laich cited Washington's youth as a "great motivator" for wanting to stick around.

"The main core of this team is very young," he said. "You're looking at a chance to win a championship for potentially the next 10 years."

Laich has 100 career goals and 137 assists, including 16 goals, 32 assists and a plus-14 rating last season. He led the Capitals with six assists in nine games during the playoffs.

He also has played in all 82 regular-season games in three of the last four seasons. The native of Wawota, Saskatchewan, has played in at least 73 games every season since 2005-06 and is second among active Capitals in games played (474).

"He's a good veteran player who's committed to winning. He never misses a practice. He's going to play a long time," general manager George McPhee said. "We certainly always wanted him back. He didn't make it any easier because he didn't tell us that until we were done, but that's the way it goes."

Laich was in the final days of a $6.1 million, three-year contract. He moves from line to line and position to position, playing any of the three forward spots when called upon.

"Inconsistency is my only consistency," he said, "because I bounce around quite a bit."

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With files from The Canadian Press.

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