With the losses of Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner in free agency and Nate Schmidt to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, the Capitals have a hole to fill on their defense. Salary cap restrictions due to long-term extensions for T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov and short-term contracts for Phillipp Grubauer, Andre Burakovsky, and Brett Connolly also handcuffed the Capitals into making a trade for a top-four defenseman to replace Schmidt. Schmidt was projected to be John Carlson‘s defense partner on the second pairing.
The Caps couldn’t even afford to keep Marcus Johansson and were forced to deal him for a bag of picks in a trade with the New Jersey Devils. While most people talked about young Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, or the veteran Taylor Chorney into filling Schmidt’s shoes, none of them have proved to Trotz that they are ready for top four responsibility yet.
That forces Trotz to start the season with veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik starting the year as Carlson’s partner. The two were partnered together for the majority of the 2014-15 season and the beginning of the 2015-16 season until Orpik got hurt on November 10 and missed the next 40 games. Orpik was still a rock on defense when healthy with 125 hits and 102 blocked shots for the year. While playing with Carlson, Orpik had 192 blocked shots, 306 hits, and 11 takeaways, though he did give away the puck 37 times. He finished that year with a +5 rating. With Orpik, Carlson came in 10th in Norris Trophy voting with 11 goals and 55 points while playing all 82 games. Last year, he led the Capitals and was 5th in the league with a +32 rating and also played a key role on the penalty kill, averaging 2:24 per game. He helped the Capitals mentor the young defensemen like Schmidt, as well as Dmitry Orlov, who was right behind him with a +30 rating last year.
Trotz said he will probs start season with Brooks Orpik in the top-four with Carlson, in part because of how many road games there are early
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) September 30, 2017
With Orpik starting with Carlson, Taylor Chorney will likely anchor the third defense pair, unless the Capitals are willing to start two rookie defensemen on the same pairing. Signed to a 5-year contract in 2014, Orpik has helped improved a Capitals defense that finished 22nd in the league in 2013-14 to seventh to second to first last season.
This should be a message for Djoos, Bowey, Aaron Ness, and everyone else who could take Orpik’s spot later this year that they have to be better.
By Harrison Brown