The Case of Barry Trotz and Brooks Orpik Versus the Capitals Fans and Media
There has been lots of controversy lately in Washington as the Capitals made a couple of big splashes when the NHL free agency period began. The Capitals signed former Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to huge long term deals.
The blueline has been a major issue for several years for the Washington Capitals. They have rarely made huge splashes in free agency as they have drafted well over the years and used the trade route more frequently. There has been little depth on the backend and not enough quality NHL blueliners.
So what is the issue with the Orpik signing by the Capitals? Why are the fans and media so against this contract? Most fans and media determine an NHL contract by the amount of goals and points scored, and not by other intangible elements. There are certain elements that Brooks Orpik brings to the table that you cannot put a price tag on.
Why is Orpik Worth His Contract?
Brooks Orpik has been a Penguins blue collar defenseman ever since he stepped foot into the NHL. He is not known for putting up goals and points, but he is known for his defensive play.
Orpik brings a physical edge to the game. He brings attitude and ruthless aggression. Orpik does not care what logo one has on the front of their jersey or what nameplate one has on the back of their jersey. He will hit anything that moves in front of the net or in the middle of the ice.
The NHL is a very physical game, especially when the playoffs come around. Those who have little push-back in their game will get pushed around in a playoff series. Defensemen who have an edge and nastiness to their game become highly coveted in postseason playoff runs. The NHL’s elite clubs/cup contenders all have a guy who is not afraid to lay the boom and play physical when the postseason hits. A couple of notable names that carry this attribute include:
Robyn Regehr (LA)
Brent Seabrook (CHI)
Zdeno Chara (BOS)
Dan Girardi (NYR)
Johnny Boychuk (BOS)
Who have the Capitals had that is similar in comparison in recent playoff series? The only person that even comes for a comparable is John Erskine. Unfortunately for John Erskine, he is not a defenseman that has the most mobility on the ice.
None of the Capitals defensemen that play every game have a physical edge to their game. John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green are all phenomenal skaters but none of them play a chippy game. All three of them are all fairly young. Brooks Orpik will bring leadership and veteran presence to a fairly young Capitals blueline.
Why is Orpik NOT Worth His Contract?
At 33, Orpik is probably on the downswing of his career. Some say he has maybe lost a step in his skating. Orpik’s Corsi and Fenwick numbers were not very good last season in Pittsburgh. This means that he does not score well with puck possession.
By the time Orpik’s contract expires, he will be 38-years old. Will he survive the duration of the contract with his style of play? Defensemen that play his style of play usually have a short shelf life.
It is a huge question on how many good years the Capitals will get out of Orpik. It is difficult to judge if he will be able to play the entire duration of his contract. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan admitted that giving Orpik the fifth year was tough, but the market became very competitive for him.
Another big concern for Orpik and the Capitals is the salary cap. No one has any realistic clue on what the salary cap could be in five years from now. Will it be at or around the same $69 million that is set at right now? Will it be at $80-90 million five years from now? IF the salary cap hits over $80 million in five years time, the Orpik contract will look very miniscule on the Capitals books. It will still look ugly to some, especially if he cannot skate regularly in the lineup at that time, but it will not look as bad as it does now with the lower cap number.
The Capitals fans and media who dislike Orpik’s contract need to get over their dislike of it. While the term and money figures are both high, there are things that Orpik brings that has been much needed in the Capitals lineup for several years. Any diehard Capitals fan or media member who has watched the team for years should realize this. Orpik has been a thorn in the Capitals side for years. He has been a thorn in the side against many teams. He is a familiar face to many around the NHL. This new attitude that Barry Trotz and Brooks Orpik will bring to the Capitals will get rid of any country club atmosphere that the Capitals have been known for for a while.
The Capitals had 3 NHL regulars on the blueline last season, while the other three holes on the blueline were filled by AHL callups or fringe NHLers. The depth on the blueline was not there and has not been there for a while. The physical presence and leadership on the Capitals blueline has not been there for years. Every quality NHL blueline needs a Brooks Orpik type player to be successful. When the NHL playoffs come around, goals and points are thrown out the window. Attitude and physicality become a major part of the game in the postseason. The playoffs are a grind and the space on the ice becomes limited.
If there is anything that Orpik will bring to the table, it is knowledge of what the Capitals weaknesses are and what the Penguins weaknesses are. Orpik will know how the Penguins were able to beat the Capitals in recent games. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Orpik should be able to provide the weaknesses of the Penguins. Should that make Capitals fans and media happy that they could have some insight on how to beat the Penguins?
The Capitals patchwork philosophy on the blueline has not worked and will never work. The defensive core has been neglected in recent NHL drafts by the Capitals management. If the Capitals would have addressed these needs more in the draft, they would have not had to overpay in free agency this summer. When a team overpays in free agency, that means there is a glaring hole in the organization somewhere.
When Brooks Orpik hits a Penguins player in the middle of the ice next season, there is no doubt that the Capitals fans and media will change their opinions quickly. What diehard Capitals fan would not want to watch Brooks Orpik lay the wood on Sidney Crosby?
Orpik’s physical play, solid defensive play, and leadership is something that is hard to put a price tag on. He is a player that the Capitals will need for a long playoff haul if they want a legitimate chance to win a Stanley Cup. While he will not light up the score sheets on a nightly basis, he will make up for it in other areas of the game.
Thanks for tuning in!
I am from Virginia. I am covering the Washington Capitals for The Hockey Writers. I love to write and I am a huge sports fanatic – especially hockey. Follow me on Twitter: @Canucksfin56