Leafs' Brooks Laich doesn't want your pity

It was Brooks Laich's dream as a child to see himself in a Maple Leafs sweater. Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

TORONTO -- One would think that dropping 30 places in the standings would sink a man's spirits about as low they can get.

Not to mention missing out on what appears to be the Washington Capitals' most realistic chance at a Stanley Cup in the Alex Ovechkin era.

But cancel your pity parties for poor ol' Brooks Laich.

The 32-year-old native of Wawota, Saskatchewan, sounded like a man reborn, re-energized, absolutely stoked about the opportunity at hand with the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs.

For starters, he was reminded while standing for "O Canada" before a game at the Air Canada Centre of dreaming as a kid of wearing a Leafs sweater someday.

"I had obviously been in the building many times before but always as the opposition," Laich said Monday. "This time playing for the home team, I mean, I used to watch 'Hockey Night In Canada' every Saturday like every kid in Canada. I wanted to play for the Leafs. I was a [Doug] Gilmour fan, a [Mats] Sundin fan. When we had the anthem and the Canadian flag was going down the one side in the crowd, the Maple Leafs flag was going down the other, and I was playing for the Leafs, people were rooting for me, that's when it really hit home. This was a dream come true. It really is. It's something very special.

"A lot of people might look at the situation that got me here and say, 'Oh, he's disappointed, he must be upset.' No, I look at it like a tremendous opportunity, I'm very fortunate to be here."

Fortunate ... to be with the last-place Leafs? He is not kidding. Because he sees this chance in Toronto as a chance to kick-start his career.

The reality -- and Laich probably knows it -- is that the Leafs' true interest in the Feb. 28 trade with the Capitals was acquiring the 2016 second-round pick and young blueliner Connor Carrick. They don't get that good a pick unless they take on Laich's contract, which carries a $4.5 million salary-cap hit this season and next.

Still, Leafs management has an open mind as far as Laich's future. After all, with the departures of Dion Phaneuf and Roman Polak, there's a need for veteran leadership around this ever-younger Leafs roster.

But Laich will have a future with the Leafs only if his play on the ice warrants it. And he knows that.

"As of right now, the plan is day by day for myself. I'm trying to prove myself," Laich said.

"My job first and foremost is to rebuild my career, play the way I can. Be an effective, everyday consistent player. And then when doing so, the other intangibles come naturally. I love teammates, I love the team atmosphere of hockey, I love the enthusiasm of young kids, I remember being there 10 years ago, being one myself. But all those things come after me first playing well. I have to play well in order to have my voice carry any weight in the locker room."

As for the Caps, whom he's already faced since the trade, those emotions are still tangled.

"I really don't know, I was talking with my fiancée the other night, I haven't gone through the anger stage," said Laich, who was the longest-serving Capitals player before being dealt. "I still look at it like I was fortunate to be there for 12 years. There's no guarantee they're going to win a Stanley Cup. People are saying, 'You got robbed of a Cup ring.' Well, hold on, they haven't won it yet. We don't know what's going to happen. For myself, I've always loved playing the game, I'm playing in the National Hockey League, which is a privilege. This is a new lease on my career here, a chance to rebuild my career. I had such a diminished role in Washington; it didn't look like there was a future there. Here I've got a chance to play and re-establish myself and further my career. That's something I'm really excited about."

He admits to have watched a Caps game on TV since he got to Toronto. It's pretty hard not to.

"I'll watch them, certainly. I'll be curious and a little bit anxious to see what happens there. So many good friends there; I will always wish good friends well," Laich said.

But, to suggest he'll be wearing Caps pom-poms come springtime? I'm not so sure about that.

"To be completely honest, it really is a unique situation," Laich said. "I really wish my friends well, at the same time, it would be really hard to see. ... I really don't know how I'll feel if everything goes their way. I'll be happy for my friends, like Ovi and Nicky [Nicklas Backstrom] and Chimmer [Jason Chimera], I'll be happy for a lot of those guys. But as far as the feelings towards the situation and whatever, and how or when I was moved out, the timing of it all? I'm not sure how that's going to play out yet."