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.
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.
The Caps didn’t suffer a regulation loss in Week 5 and enter Week 6 with a record of 6-5-3, which is good for 4th in the Metropolitan (that name still sucks) Division.
The Caps are facing some tough possession forwards this week, particularly over the weekend, which could spell trouble for the Caps’ “shutdown D.” Here’s a look at the 3 games for the week.
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography
11/11 vs. Columbus
The Blue Jackets have lost 8 in row and find themselves in the basement of the Metro (it sucks less when we call it that) Division with a record of 4-9-1. The Jackets have been decimated by injuries. This is a game the Caps should win. Columbus is ranked 24th in the league in unblocked shot attempts at 5-on-5, as just 47.89% of said attempts go in their favor.
The Blue Jackets combined shooting% and save% is 29th in the league, which indicates they have not been getting many breaks. Combine that with their poor play and it’s easy to see why they find themselves in the cellar. So, if the Jackets get a couple lucky bounces that results in some goals, start sacrificing something to the PDO gods during the game (PDO is the name of the stat that combines shooting% and save%) to try to get some bounces going in the Caps’ favor.
One player to watch is Ryan Johanson. The 22 year old ranks 12th in the league with 16 points despite missing most of training camp because of a contract dispute. He’s a stud.
11/14 vs. New Jersey
The Devils are currently 6-6-2, one point behind the Caps in the Metro. The Devils have been a so-so possession team, ranking 20th in the league with 49.42% of unblocked 5-on-5 shot attempts going in their favor. In terms of puck luck, the Devils combined shooting% and save% is 6th best in the league at 101.47. That’s not necessarily unsustainable, but they have received more bounces than the average team in the league, so they may have some bad bounces in their future. Hopefully Friday will be that day.
The Caps trounced the Devils 6-2 in their only meeting so far this season. As you already know, the Devils have a guy named Jagr who used to play for the Caps. He currently leads them with 9 points. He’s also the best relative possession forward in the entire NHL. He could, quite possibly, eat alive the Caps “shutdown” D pair of Orpik and Carlson.
11/15 at St. Louis
Facing one of the better teams in the NHL on the back end of a back-to-back isn’t ideal. If the Caps come out flat or get dead legs late in the game, the Blues will pounce. Their 53.78% of unblocked shot attempts is 6th best in the NHL. They rank 9th in puck luck with a PDO of 101.02.
Keep an eye on Vladimir Tarasenko. This guy is the real deal. He currently sits 9th in the league with 17 points. He’s also been the Blues best possession player so far this season.
With a 6-5 loss to the Coyotes, the Caps have now lost four straight. Their record stands at 4-5-2.
-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 27-23 Caps. Close game shot attempts were 17-14 Caps.
-W-L on faceoffs, 26-14 Arizona. Backstrom 7-8, Brouwer 0-1, Burakovsky 0-7, Fehr 4-0, Kuznetsov 1-7, Latta 2-3.
-The Caps’ best CorsiRel player was Eric Fehr at +27.59%
-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Jay Beagle at -43.42%
-Nicklas Backstrom was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts (21).
-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most shot attempts against (22).
-The toughest ZS% went to Fehr (40%), followed by Backstrom (45.45%).
-One Cap had 100% ZS%: Burakovsky.
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 80% ZS, +22.98CorsiRel.
The Caps prevailed over the Panthers 2-1 in a shootout. The Caps are now 3-0-2 on the year. Here’s a look at some stats from the game, particularly the #fancystats.
-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 49-35 Caps. Close-game shot attempts were also in favor of the Caps, 48-32.
-W-L on faceoffs, 41-22 Caps. In no particular order: Burakovsky 2-3, Backstrom 15-6, Laich 3-1, Brouwer 4-0, Kuznetsox 6-4, Chimera 1-1, Fehr 10-7.
-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Andre Burakovsky at +28.44%
-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Chris Brown at -29.17%
-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts for with 29.
-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Panthers shot attempts with 20.
-The toughest ZS% went to Matt Niskanen at 50%
-6 Caps had a 100% ZS%: Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Liam O’brien, and Chris Brown
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 80% ZS, +18.26 CorsiRel
All data pulled from War on Ice.
In case you haven’t heard, the Caps recently released a fan-voted list of the top 40 Caps in franchise history. On this list was Alex Semin, who I’d consider the most divisive player in franchise history. Yes, he’s even more divisive than Mike Green or Brooks Orpik’s contract. No doubt, Semin was frustrating at times. He took penalties in areas of the ice that seemed unnecessary. But Semin was often given an unfair amount of grief in his time here. He’s an under appreciated player, so I’m glad to see him being recognized as one of the better players in the history of the Caps.
Semin was one of my favorite players during his time here. I spent far more time than I ever hoped to defending him. Maybe I’m just a paranoid Sasha lover, but I’d imagine some people will bemoan Semin’s inclusion when he is celebrated as making the top 40. When they do, my fellow Sasha lovers, here is a list of rebuttals when they start to talk about him being lazy, enigmatic, and undisciplined.
-Semin scored 198 goals for the Caps, good for 5th all-time. At 469 games played, he is the only player in the top-7 to be under 500 GP.
-Semin’s 211 assist places him 19th on the Caps all-time list.
-Semin is the franchise’s 16th leading scorer in terms of points.
-During his time with the Caps (2003-2012), Semin’s 1.45 Goals per 60 minutes of play were second to only Alex Ovechkin. His 1.56 Assists per 60 were 5th among all players who played 82 total games or more for the Caps between 2003-12. His 3.01 points per 60 rank second, again only trailing Ovechkin.
-His G/60 ranked 4th among the 852 NHL players who played 900+ minutes between 2003-12. His P/60 ranked 29th
-Semin’s 53.25 close-game CF% ranked 82nd among the same group.
Semin also made the players around him better. WOWY stats are only available back to 2007, but here’s Semin’s teammates fared playing with him vs. playing without him. These are the 10 players who spent the most TOI with Semin from 2007-12.
Every one of these players, the 10 who skated the most amount of minutes with Semin from 2007-12, saw an improvement in their possession numbers when playing with him as opposed to without him. In fact, the top 26 skaters, in terms of TOI together, to skate with Semin during this time period saw an improvement in their possession numbers.
Alex Semin was excellent during his time here in Washington, despite what some fans’ frustration level with him might have led you to believe. His place among the top 40 Caps ever is well deserved. While I’d argue he’d be pretty high up on the list if the 40 players happened to be ranked, I’m satisfied just knowing that the lazy narratives on Semin didn’t win out when it came to voting for the 40 greatest Caps in franchise history.
The Caps beat the Devils 6-2 to move to 2-0-2. Here’s a look at some of the #fancystats from the game.
-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 45-35 in favor of the Devils. Close-game shot attempt totals were 34-25, Devils.
-W-L on faceoffs, 37-32 for the Devils. In no particular order: Ward 2-1, Fehr 6-10, Brakovsky 4-4, Backstrom 5-5, Burakovsky 4-6, Brouwer 5-6, O-Brien 0-1, Brown 1-1, Laich 3-3.
-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Eric Fehr at 39.61%
-The Caps worst Corsi Rel player was Chris Brown at -22.73%
-Mike Green and Karl Alzner were on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts with 13.
-Nate Schmidt was on the ice for the most shot attempts against with 19.
-The toughest ZS% went to Andre Burakovsky at 33.33%
-The easiest ZS% went to Troy Brouwer at 77.78%
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 50% ZS, -8.23 CF%
All data pulled from War on Ice
The Caps fell to the Sharks in a shootout, 6-5. The Caps are now 1-0-2 on the season. Here’s a look at some stats from the game, particularly the #fancystats.
-The Caps had a 5-on-5 shot attempt advantage of 55-37. In “close” score situations, the advantage was 6-3, Sharks.
-Caps W-L on faceoffs. Backstrom 8-11, Burakovsky 3-6, Kuznetsov 3-5, Johansson 1-0, Latta 3-1, Ward 4-2, Laich 4-2.
-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Green at +27.01%
-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Laich at -21.93%
-Nick Backstrom was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts with 25.
-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Sharks shot attempts against with 20 (But 24 for the Caps)
-The toughest ZS% went to Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson, who didn’t start any shifts in the offensive zone.
-Liam O’Brien and Evgeny Kuznetsov saw the highest ZS% at 83.3%.
-Only 3 Caps were below 50% CF: Laich, Chimera, and Ward.
-Nate Schmidt (possession monster) update: Nate was on the ice for 13 shot attempts for and 7 against for a CF% of 64% and a CorsiRel % of +5.79
All stats pulled from War on Ice