Since taking over the reins as Washington’s general manager in late May, Brian MacLellan has stated his desire to improve the Capitals’ defensive corps. Today, MacLellan made what he hopes will be the first stride in achieving that goal.
The Caps have signed veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins, to a five-year contract worth a total of $27.5 million. The annual salary cap hit for the 33-year-old native of San Francisco will be $5.5 million.
The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Orpik has spent his entire NHL career with the Penguins, totaling 13 goals and 119 assists for 132 points while amassing 734 PIM in 703 games. He has also played in 92 Stanley Cup playoff games and was a member of the 2009 Cup champion Penguins team.
Orpik departs Pittsburgh as the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by a defenseman, and he immediately becomes Washington’s most experienced blueliner from the standpoint of career games played in the NHL.
Not known for his offensive prowess, Orpik has never scored more than two goals in any of his 11 seasons in the league. He posted single-season career bests in assists (23) and points (25) in 2009-10, the only NHL season in which he has reached the 20-point plateau.
Over each of his last six seasons, Orpik has averaged 20 or more minutes of ice time per night. He peaked at 22:33 per contest in 2011-12 and averaged 21:12 while playing in 72 of Pittsburgh’s 82 games in 2013-14.
In Washington, Orpik is reunited with newly hired Caps assistant coach Todd Reirden who coached him for the last four seasons in Pittsburgh as an assistant with the Penguins.
“I think he’s a player that – looking at the Capitals’ present roster – I think he’d be a guy, a left-hand-shot, more of a stay-at-home guy that plays against the other team’s top players,” said Reirden when asked about Orpik on Monday. “I pride myself on my ability to form relationships with the players where I can challenge them and continue to force them to improve. Brooks is a guy that prior to us working together started at just over 18 minutes and now he’s capped out at his average of 22 minutes, and he plays the toughest players, every night, on a night in and night out basis.
“He has been part of a top penalty-killing unit and he has been the best penalty killer the past three years, four years that I’ve been involved in Pittsburgh. So I think he brings that ability. He saw a lot of [Alex] Ovechkin in our match-ups when we came into this building or when Washington was playing us in Pittsburgh. It’s a guy that can handle that. He’s mature, he’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s been a part of a good defensive team and his leadership I think would be a great fit for any team and I’d like it to be here as well.”
Orpik spent six full seasons with Pittsburgh prior to Reirden’s arrival as an assistant in 2010-11. During those first six seasons, Orpik finished as high as fourth among Pens defensemen (20 games or more) in average ice time per time twice, in 2005-06 and 2008-09. In Reirden’s four years in Pittsburgh, Orpik was always in the top four, and he was third on the team in ice time among defensemen in both 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Orpik led the Penguins in shorthanded ice time in each of the last two seasons and was second on the club in that department in each of the two seasons before that. He has been among the top 25 in the league in shorthanded ice-time in each of the last four seasons, topping out at fifth (3:44 per game) in 2010-11, the season in which Pittsburgh boasted the best penalty-killing outfit in the NHL. The Penguins have been a top five penalty killing team in the circuit in three of the last four seasons.
Washington went into free agency needing a top four left-handed defensemen. In landing Orpik, the Caps hope they’ve filled that need. And they hope he’ll be able to adequately fill that need for the duration of his contract. Traditionally, rugged stay-at-home defenders of Orpik’s ilk don’t age well in the NHL. Orpik has a reputation for being well-conditioned and taking very good care of himself. He’ll be 38 years old when he enters the final season of the contract he signed today.
Part of the freight being paid to Orpik is for intangible qualities, too, the sorts of things that aren’t reflected in box scores or advanced analytics. In each of the last four seasons, Orpik was awarded Pittsburgh’s “Player’s Player Award.” That honor is voted on by the Penguins players themselves, and given to the player they feel “best exemplifies leadership for the team on and off the ice and dedication to teamwork.” He has served as an alternate captain for the Penguins since 2008-09.
A first-round (18th overall) draft choice of the Penguins in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Orpik was the fourth defenseman taken in the 2000 draft. Of the 96 defensemen chosen in the 2000 draft, only two (Nick Schultz and Lubomir Visnovsky) have appeared in more regular season games than Orpik.
Schultz was chosen in the second round (33rd overall) and was the second player chosen in the Minnesota Wild’s draft history. Now with Edmonton, he has appeared in 880 NHL games.
A 24-year-old European pro at the time he was drafted in the fourth round (118th overall); Visnovsky stepped right into the Los Angeles lineup in his draft year and has played 830 games. He was a member of the New York Islanders last season.
Only 20 of those 96 defensemen (20.8%) drafted in 2000 have gone on to play as many as 100 games in the NHL.