Now that Brooks Laich is locked up for the next three years (a little longer than I'd have liked, but presumably the Caps didn't want to risk losing in arbitration and being forced to choose between a larger cap hit this year and walking away from a player that is one of the squad's emerging young leaders, especially with Chris Clark still not at 100%), let's take a look at what to expect from him (on the ice) in 2008-09, specifically his goal total.
Laich's breakout 2007-08 saw the former sixth-round pick crack the 20-goal barrier for the first time since juniors and finish third on the team in lamp-lighters. The keen observer will note that Laich's 17.2 shooting percentage was 13th in the NHL, which is nice, but unlikely to be repeated. How unlikely? Of the top ten shooting percentages of players scoring between 20 and 39 goals (inclusive) in each of the first two years since the lockout (parameters which would place Laich in sixth this past season), the average decrease in shot percentage in the following year is 6.72%, and every single one of the players had at least a 2.64% decline.* Along with the dip in shooting percentage, these players saw their goal totals drop by an average of 8.4.
Using the past performance of a small sample to predict an individual future outcome is pretty lousy statistics, but let's have at it any way. Assuming that Laich has an average (6.72%) drop in his shooting percentage and takes the same number of shots in 2008-09 as he did in 2007-08 (a rather generous assumption, considering both the potential return of Cap'n Clark and the fact that Laich didn't miss a game last season), he'll score 12.8 goals. If he equals that smallest drop off (2.64% - Alex Tanguay from 2005-06 to 2006-07, incidentally), he'll score 17.8 goals. To get all the way back to 21 goals, Laich would have to fire 201 shots in the first scenario and 145 in the second (and the most shots on goal he's ever had in a single season as a pro is 150 with Portland back during the lockout).
If you're starting to get the feeling that Laich isn't going to be back in the 20-goal club next year, this might seal the deal for you - thirteen of Laich's 21 goals last season came in a 26-game stretch from early February through April Fool's Day, a span during which he had just 50 shots on goal for a 26% shooting percentage. Take away that hot streak and Laich scored 8 goals on 72 shots, which is a sustainable 11.1% (coincidentally right around his 17.2% minus the 6.72% average drop off and also Bryan Smolinski's career shooting percentage, for a point of reference), and just under a 12-goal pace for a full season. Of course, take away any player's hot streaks and his numbers are going to look pretty awful, so consider those to be the basement floor... or not.
The point of this whole exercise certainly isn't to bash Laich (who brings a lot to the table other than goal scoring) or to piss in your Cheerios if you're excited about the signing (which I certainly am), but rather to be realistic in our expectations. Either Laich made "the leap" after Groundhog Day, or he'll regress some in the goal department. My bet? Well, since we're talking about betting and 21 (and his 21 goals), I'll say that the dealer holds on 16.
* Why between 20 and 39? Any fewer gets a bit more fluky and any more and you're undeniably in legit goal-scorer territory. Also worth noting, neither Chris Clark's nor Steve Sullivan's 2007-08 totals were included due to so few games played.