Fifteen days after they hoisted the Cup together, the 2017-18 Washington Capitals began to break apart as the result of a trade hours ahead of the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. The Caps sent defenseman Brooks Orpik and goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for the Avalanche’s second-round pick in the 2018 Draft, the No. 47 pick overall.
The 37-year-old Orpik came to Washington as a free agent four years ago this summer, and the simultaneous additions of he and Matt Niskanen as unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2014 were critical in recasting the Capitals as a more defensively adept and responsible outfit. Orpik’s roster presence also helped the Caps remold their team culture as the braintrust combination of general manager Brian MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz began their respective reigns in 2014-15.
Over the past four seasons, Orpik played in 279 games in a Washington sweater, totaling three goals and 53 points to go along with a plus-39 rating. When he and his Caps lifted the Cup just over two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Orpik was the only member of the team who was doing so for the second time. He was also a key cog for the 2009 Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins team. Orpik averaged just under 17 minutes a night while skating in all 24 playoff games with the Caps in he playoffs this spring. He scored one goal – a game-winner in the Cup Final series – and had five points to go along with a league-best plus-17 mark.
Orpik has one year remaining on the five-year pact he signed that deal, a deal that carries a $5.5 million salary cap hit, but a salary a million dollars lower than that figure. The veteran blueliner is just 18 games shy of reaching the 1,000-game plateau for his NHL career.
Grubauer was Washington’s fourth-round choice (112th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, just a shade under eight years ago. The 26-year-old Grubauer has developed into a bona fide NHL netminder, and he is coming off a pair of strong seasons that created some demand for him around the league.
With Braden Holtby still under contract as the Caps’ No. 1 netminder for two more seasons, and Grubauer having established himself as a goalie who might be capable of serving as a No. 1 guy elsewhere, MacLellan recently indicated that he would attempt to accommodate Grubauer by moving him to a team where he might have a chance to carve out a larger role.
Beginning in 2012-13, Grubauer saw some NHL duty in three straight seasons but spent most of each campaign with AHL Hershey. He made it to the NHL for good in 2015-16, and along with Holtby has done all of the team’s goaltending duties for three seasons, marking the first time in franchise history that the Caps were able to get through three consecutive seasons with the same two netminders playing every minute of every game.
Grubauer heads to Denver with a total of 101 games worth of NHL experience, including 79 starts. He owns a 43-31-11 career record to go along with six shutouts, a 2.29 GAA and a .923 save pct. As of July 1, Grubauer will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.
The trade enables the Caps to shed Orpik’s salary and to bring a second-round pick to a team that didn’t pick until the fourth round of the 2017 Draft. As it stands now, the Caps own pick Nos. 31, 46 and 47 in the 2018 Draft, which should be beneficial toward restocking a farm system that graduated several players from Hershey to Washington last season.
Shedding the salaries of Orpik and Grubauer and ostensibly replacing the latter with Pheonix Copley will create $6.35 million worth of cap space for the Capitals, which may help them in their efforts to re-sign impending free agent defenseman John Carlson.