Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan’s Interesting Comments on Brooks Orpik’s Role with the Caps
Defenseman’s Large Contract Even More Puzzling Now, Two Years Into Five-Year-Deal
In the summer of 2014, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan inked rugged, nearly 34-year-old, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik to a five-year, 27.5 million dollar deal. Despite needing to fill gaping holes in their defense, the choice of Orpik at that price and length of contract was an odd move.
In the years leading up to the Orpik signing, the NHL had begun a shift toward a style of play that places more value on smoother-skating, puck-moving backenders, things Orpik —more of a throwback to the days of crease-clearing, “HIT SOMEONE!” defensemen—really is not.
Perhaps more importantly, by the time he received that long-term contract from the Caps, Orpik had reached an age when most NHL players experience a decline in their performance. Locking up a player who no longer fits the modern day blue-liner mold, through the season when he’ll be 38-years-old and at such a high salary, didn’t seem like a great idea.
Hours before the Caps and Orpik struck that deal two summer ago and not knowing who the team might make offers to, my brother Pat tweeted, “We all agree that the worst possible thing the Caps could do today, including standing pat, is to sign Brooks Orpik, right?”
But, maybe MacLellan saw the former Boston College player as a guy who could deliver value worthy of the contract that currently makes him the second-highest-paid Caps defensemen, just $250,000 a year behind Matt Niskanen. The 2009 Stanley Cup winner may have fit into the team’s plans in ways some outside the Washington front office couldn’t see.
If that was true at the time of the 2014 signing, recent comments by MacLellan make it hard to believe. The GM’s May 2016 remarks better support the thinking of those who’ve been skeptical of the Orpik signing for the past two years.
Addressing the media a few days after this season’s second round playoff loss to Pittsburgh, MacLellan spoke about the Caps’ trade deadline acquisition of defenseman Mike Weber. “I mean, did we need a higher-caliber defenseman? Maybe. But it was difficult to trade those off because you’re going to bring in a guy that’s going to jump in front of [Nate Schmidt] and jump in front of [Dmitry] Orlov and jump in front of Orpik,” he explained.
It was clear this season that Orpik was at-best the fourth defensemen on the Caps depth chart, with Niskanen, John Carlson and Karl Alzner ahead of him. MacLellan’s comment regarding the Weber acquisition hints he may feel similarly about Orpik’s place on the team.
At times, it could also have been argued that Schmidt ranked ahead of Orpik, with Orlov showing flashes of potential to do so as well. With a little more experience, both of those young players may soon remove any doubt they’ve surpassed Orpik in the value they bring to the Washington lineup.
In a May 24 radio interview, MacLellan touched on a piece of this, saying, “There’s an offensive upside to Orlov and there’s ability for him to move up in our lineup, and we’ve got to be careful that we don’t limit him in his ability to move there. I would count on him developing and getting to that next level. I mean, the idea would be, Brooks Orpik plays a little less minutes and Orlov plays a little bit more, maybe he moves into the top four for part of the time. That would be ideal situation, but we’ll have to see how he comes into camp.”
Clearly there’s the possibility in MacLellan’s mind that, as early as this coming season, the fourth highest paid skater on the Caps roster is playing in the team’s bottom defensive pairing, which brings to mind the question: If MacLellan is thinking that now, what was he thinking when he signed Orpik just two years ago? A player recently handed one of the biggest contracts on the roster shouldn’t fall down the ranks to fourth or lower on the depth chart so quickly, unless maybe he shouldn’t have been given that lucrative a contract to begin with.
Even as a fifth or sixth defenseman, could Orpik still provide valuable minutes as a penalty killer? Sure. Did he provide an immediate upgrade to a thin defense that badly needed it going into the 2014-15 season? Yes. Does he bring leadership and experience as a Stanley Cup champion to the Caps locker room? Most certainly. Could he likely be helping some of the team’s younger defensemen adjust to the NHL? Absolutely.
However, none of those needs requires a five-year, $5.5 million cap hit to address it. Players filling Orpik’s role in Washington can be had for far less and, just two seasons after losing him to free agency, Orpik’s former team in Pittsburgh is back in the Stanley Cup Finals without him. Like most players, Orpik is replaceable, regardless of what intangibles he may have brought to Washington.
If the Caps win the Stanley Cup next season, none of this may matter much in the short term. But, if Washington loses in next year’s playoffs due to not having enough of the right kind of talent in the lineup, and wishes they’d had room under the salary cap to add another piece or two, the Orpik contract could be pointed to as Exhibit A for why they weren’t able to do that. It could be argued it already was an issue this past season, possibly preventing the Caps from acquiring the aforementioned “higher-caliber defenseman” than Weber or another player.
Given his recent comments about the team’s plans, the guy who signed Orpik to that deal could be thinking similar thoughts, which raises the question of why MacLellan—who’s otherwise made shrewd moves since being named GM in 2014—didn’t see this coming two years ago and implement a different solution for filling the Caps’ needs on defense.
Read another post by Mike Holden:
The NHL Playoffs Are Broken
Pat Holden on Japers’ Rink Radio Talking Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky and John Carlson
BrooksLaichyear co-founder Pat Holden joined Adam Stringham on Japers’s Rink Radio to talk Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky, and John Carlson. Stream it at the link below.
And if you missed it earlier this month, Pat was also on Episode 84 of the PDOcast with Dimitri Filipovic.
BrooksLaichyear founder and Russian Machine Never Breaks/Today’s Slapshot writer Pat Holden joined Dimitri Filipovic on Episode 84 of the PDOcast. The two discussed the firing of Bruce Boudreau by Anaheim, the Penguins and Capitals Round 2 series, Tom Wilson and whether he crosses the line, how good Andre Burakovsky is and more. Stream it below or on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher and at hockeypdocast.com.
The Definitive Guide to Unofficial 2016 Washington Capitals Out of Town Stanley Cup Playoffs Viewing Parties
Fans have been posting online about getting together in various cities to watch Caps games during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here you’ll find all the viewing party-related posts we know about so far.
Some of what’s listed below are gatherings that have already been coordinated and others are as simple as fans asking who else near them knows of a good place to meet up with other Caps fans to watch the games.
Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography
The Caps trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, has remained largely intact since they were put together on December 2nd. Understandably so, as the three players provided a stabilizing presence in the Caps lineup. While it’s not nearly time to sound the panic button, recent trends in both process and results show that it may be time for Barry Trotz to consider more frequently experimenting with different combinations for his third line.
Here’s a look at how the Caps third line fared from December 2nd until the All-Star break, a span of 23 games. All Caps forwards are included for context. (Thanks to War on Ice for the graphics.)
Fehr, Laich, and Ward faced competition on par with Backstrom and Ovechkin, while facing the toughest zone starts of any forward on the team. Possession-wise, they were strong as well. After adjusting for score effects, only Fehr was a negative possession player, as the Caps were a negligible 0.1% worse in terms of possession when he was on the ice. Laich and Ward were both positive possession players, and each member of the third line was among the Caps’ top 6 possession forwards during this run.
The Caps third line has been facing easier competition and had slightly easier zone starts, yet their possession numbers are not as strong, particularly Ward and Fehr.
For a different angle, here’s a look at each player’s 10 game rolling, relative, score-adjusted possession numbers.
This shows that the recent dip in possession could be nothing more than a bad string of games for the line. They’ve had other dips in possession, both when playing together and apart. On the flip side, this also shows that this line shouldn’t be considered largely untouchable when Trotz tinkers with his lines.
All three players have also seen a drop in production during the second segment of games.
As J.P has already astutely pointed out, it’s important to note that the line hasn’t seen as much puck luck recently, shown below in their on-ice shooting percentages.
The third line got off to a great start, but both the process and the results have been trending in the wrong direction for the last month. While this may be just a blip on the radar screen, Barry Trotz should not be so steadfast in keeping this trio together, relative to his other line combinations. It wouldn’t hurt to try Fehr in a top-6 wing role or give third line minutes to Tom Wilson or Michael Latta.
Even if juggling the third line proves that the current trio should be put back together, their recent play hasn’t demanded they be kept together. Trotz should use this as an opportunity to try other combinations on the third line.
Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography
Andre Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch for the past three games. A curious decision, considering he had four points in the last three games before being forced to watch from the press box. Here are three more numbers on the Caps rookie forward.
Burakovsky’s points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time, tied for the team lead with Nick Backstrom among the Caps’ 12 forwards who have skated 400+ minutes this season. This ranks 45th among the 299 NHL forwards who have skated 400+ minutes this season.
Goals for the Caps per 60 minutes of 5v5 play that Burakovsky is on the ice. This is highest on the team, with John Carlson (2.8) and Alex Ovechkin (2.7) rounding out the top three. Of the 299 NHL forwards to have played 400+ minutes this season, this ranks 42nd.
Percentage points by which the Caps share of shot attempts improves with Burakovsky on the ice. Only Alex Ovechkin (+3.9%) improves the team’s possession more of the 12 forwards to have skated 400+ minutes for the team this season.
- Burakovsky is tied with Backstrom as the most productive Caps forward at 5v5, per 60 minutes of play
- The Caps see more goals per 60 minutes of plays with Burakovsky on the ice than any other player on the team.
- Among the team’s forwards, only Alex Ovechkin improves the Caps’ possession more than Burakovsky.
All stats via War on Ice
The Caps slayed the Penguins 4-0, thus ending a four-game losing streak. Caps goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin (28), Eric Fehr (15), and Mike Green (5). The Penguins had the better of even-strength shot attempts, 52-45.
-Niskanen led the Caps with a +4 on-ice shot attempt differential
-Orpik had the worst shot attempt differential at -9
-Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (20)
-Carlson was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (25)
-Niskanen and Karl Alzner faced the easiest zone starts, starting 50% of shifts in the offensive zone
-Jack Hillen, Green, and Michael Latta faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of shifts in the offensive zone
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: We’ll get back to you in a few weeks. Get well, Nate!
-What else makes this win significant? It was the second game of a back-to-back. The Caps have struggled mightily in these situations, but tonight was the exception–and hopefully the beginning of a new rule. (This does not, and should not include, Jay Beagle spending time on the first line in favor of Andre Burakovsky.)
-Some people are calling this game the Caps’ best of the season. Do with that information what you will.
-What’s up with Sidney Crosby? He definitely didn’t look like himself tonight, and the playing-through-injury theory seems plausible.
-No one likes Tim Peel. This was evidenced by Ovechkin’s tragic excuse for a penalty–a holding call on Christian Ehrhoff. As we all know, Caps-Penguins games can get chippy, but the Caps’ PK weathered a storm of penalties tonight.
Thanks to hockeystats.ca for the stats.
Our posts have been sporadic lately, but we’re still regularly publishing Caps content elsewhere on the web.
Margaret still writes about the Caps for The Hockey Writers.
A good way to keep up with our regular Caps writing elsewhere is to follow each of us on Twitter.
Here’s where you can follow Margaret.
Here’s when you can follow Pat (that’s me).
Here’s where you can follow Mike.
We still plan on creating content here on Brooks Laichyear. But there may be periods where our updates are less frequent than they’ve been this season as we’re busy publishing Caps content elsewhere. Follow us each on Twitter if you want to keep up with our writing on other sites.
The Caps played poorly but still gained a point in overtime, with the Flyers winning by a score of 3-2. Caps goals were scored by Alex Ovechkin (21) and Nicklas Backstrom (13). The Flyers had the better of even-strength shot attemps, 55-47. The chart below shows shot attempts, adjusting for score states. As you can see, the Flyers had the better of shot attempts, when adjusting for score.
Even strength #fancystats
-Niskanen led the Caps with a +8 on-ice shot attempt differential
-Carlson had the worst shot attempt differential at -20
-Niskanen was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (21)
-Carlson was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (36)
-Green, Chimera, and Wilson faced the easiest zone starts, starting 100% of shifts in the offensive zone
-Johansson, Brouwer, and Kuznetsov faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 20% of shifts in the offensive zone
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: HE HATH BEEN FREED. Schmidt posted a +5 shot differential and started 75% of his shifts in the offensive zone.
-Ovi kicked off scoring with a power-play goal, his 21st tally of the season.
-You know who else (almost) scored a goal? Karl Alzner. He and Jay Beagle have set career highs in goals. Do with that information what you will–Pat makes a good argument that Alzner is very tradeable.
-On the flip side, Sean Courtier’s goal was pretty bad for all parties involved, except for Sean Courtier.
-Braden Holtby has made 23 appearances. In a row. This sets a franchise record.
Thanks to hockeystats.ca for the stats.
The Caps crushed the Leafs, 6-2. Caps goals were scored by Marcus Johansson (11), Eric Fehr (12), Brooks Laich (5), Johansson again (12), Fehr again (13), Ovechkin (EN, 20). The Leafs had the better of the even strength shot attempts, 55-44. The chart below shows shot attempts, adjusting for score states. As you can see, the Caps had the better of shot attempts, when adjusting for score.
Even strength, score-adjusted shot attempt chart:
Even strength #fancystats
-Johansson led the Caps with a +6 on-ice shot attempt differential
-Jack Hillen had the worst shot attempt differential at -7
-John Carlson was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (21)
-Carlson, Hillen, and Mike Green were on the ice for the most shot attempts against (20)
-Jay Beagle faced the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of shifts in the offensive zone
-Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov faced the easiest zone starts, starting 100% of shifts in the offensive zone
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster, update: The Schmidtuation continues.
-This was the best game Johansson-Kuznetsov-Brouwer have had as a line.
-Braden Holtby continues to be outstanding for this team. Let’s give him the night off tomorrow, eh?
-Haha, Dion Phaneuf, don’t ever touch Ovechkin again. Remember when the narrative was that Tom Wilson on the first line allowed Ovechkin to feel more comfortable? The only protection Ovechkin needs is Ovechkin.
-Fehr was sniping tonight. How about giving him a try in the slot on PP2 instead of Ward?