Based on general manager Brian MacLellan’s comments last week, it would appear that the Capitals are sticking with Brooks Orpik. The GM said that there would be no buyouts, which implies that Oprik, with two more years on his contract, will remain on the roster. This has upset some fans who think it would be better to release some salary cap space to make room for younger players. Others see the benefit to be gained from someone with his experience and locker room presence.
The Capitals’ alternate captain isn’t afraid of the fight. He doesn’t hold back on the ice. And he doesn’t hold back from calling out his teammates to do better. After the Caps lost three west coast games, Oprik told Mike Vogel that “We make hockey our first priority and focus a little better than we did on this trip.” He didn’t want to explain himself to the press, but we’re sure his pals heard him loud and clear. After all; many wives, girlfriends, friends, and family accompanied many of the players, turning the trip into a bit of a holiday and perhaps a distraction. He went on to complain about the number of penalties the team was taking and the negative impact on their game.
To be honest, his time with the Caps has been no day in the park. He was out much of the 2015/16 season with a cracked femur, and who can forget the three game suspensions during the playoffs? This past season he suffered a lower-body injury that caused him to miss several games mid-season.
Oprik loves a physical defensive play which can often send him to the box. Last season he spent 48 minutes in the box. He averaged 17.47 minutes on the ice per game—among the lowest time for defensemen on the team. He blocked 132 shots, second only to Karl Alzner. With 181 hits, he was more physical than any D-men—only Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin had more hits. He ended the year with a plus 32. Unfortunately his playoff stats haven’t been all that great. He was on the ice more than any player when the opponent scored. His penalty minutes may have contributed in some small extent to scoring opportunities for the other team.
At 36 (37 at the start of the season),Orpik is likely nearing the end of his NHL career. The Capitals appear ready to keep him on the roster at the cost of 5.5 million toward the cap hit, making him a costly investment for the Caps. If they do intend to keep him, they can’t then afford to sit him out. And again we have the domino effect. What does keeping Orpik mean for a younger version in Nate Schmidt or a potential rookie from Hershey like Madison Bowey, Aaron Ness, or Jonas Siegenthaler.
Keeping Orpik is a bit of a risk; however, the team needs a strong defenseman like him who isn’t afraid of taking the hits, blocking the shots, and yes, sitting in the box on occasion. For now, it looks like the defense may be built around him, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson, with the potential return of Taylor Chorney, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov.