Nick Wass/Associated Press
When the Capitals signed defenseman Brooks Orpik to a five-year, $27.5 million contract in the summer of 2014, the deal was met with a mixture of reactions. Now in his third season in a Caps sweater, Orpik has seen a reduced role and now being 36-years old with a $5.5 million salary, Orpik is seen as a burden by some fans. While financially it may be, he is still an asset when it comes to on-ice performance.
When Orpik signed his contract, there were mixed reactions. Some fans felt it was too much for a physical, stay-at-home defenseman whose best years were likely behind him. Others, like myself, were approving of the contract. I’ve been a big advocate for Orpik in the past, and despite his age, style of play, and cap hit, he is still a valuable member of the Capitals’ blueline.
After playing in the Top 4 in his first two seasons in the District, Orpik was relegated to a third-pairing role. While having a defenseman making $5.5 million on the bottom defense-pairing isn’t ideal, it speaks more to the depth the Caps have on the blueline than a potential decline in Orpik’s play. Through 65 games played, Orpik is averaging 17:48 minutes a night and has 13 assists. While he may not be much help offensively, Orpik is having one of the finest defensive seasons in his career.
Orpik leads the Caps with a plus/minus rating of plus-31 – he is tied for fourth in the NHL – and is second on the Capitals in blocked shots with 110. He’s third in hits with 159, and leads the Caps with 4.5 defensive points shared, which is the estimate of the number of points contributed by a player due to his defense. He has been a top-notch possession player as well, as he has a Corsi rating of 51.4, and the Caps’ goalies have a save percentage of .944 when he is on the ice.
With the recent surge in play by young defenseman Nate Schmidt, many fans are calling for Head Coach Barry Trotz to sit Orpik, and with the return of superstar blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk from a two-game suspension, Trotz will need to make a decision. And while Schmidt more than deserves an opportunity to prove himself, Orpik’s solid play is has made for an interesting decision for Trotz. UPDATE: According to CSN MidAtlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir, Orpik is playing in place of Schmidt tonight agains the Nashville Predators
Orpik is an alternate captain and a valuable locker room leader, but Schmidt deserves an extended look. Even if Orpik is eventually a scratch for the next several games, he HAS shown that he’s one of the best defensive rearguards the Caps have at their disposal and that he’s much better than people give him credit for. A former Stanley Cup champion, his leadership and experience will be needed come playoff time, and he’ll prove many wrong yet again when the time comes.
By Michael Fleetwood