The Washington Capitals were aggressive on the first day of free agency, adding three players to their roster: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Justin Peters. Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog that the Caps “added offense, versatility, and experience in Niskanen and signed a shutdown D-man in Orpik.”
He also added, “priority No. 1 was to upgrade our defense, and we made significant strides today.”
I agree. The Capitals will dress better defenders next season. The team’s defense in 2013-14 lacked a true top pairing and the third pairing hemorrhaged shots on net all year, no matter who was put on the ice. The Caps were either going to have to be aggressive via trades or free agency, or they’d have to wait a few seasons for prospects to mature (Nate Schmidt, Patrick Wey, and Connor Carrick).
Caps GM Brian MacLellan decided to go the UFA route. Despite spending a ton of cash (nearly $70 million) and landing perhaps the best defenseman on the market, the mainstream hockey media filleted MacLellan for his moves.
Yahoo’s Nic Cotsonika highlighted winners and losers, writing that he does not believe Orpik or Niskanen will be worth the cash that Washington paid them.
Washington Capitals: Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. The Capitals got the top defenseman available when they signed Niskanen. They added Orpik, too, and there is a comfort level with both because they played for assistant coach Todd Reirden in Pittsburgh. The $40.25 million over seven years is a lot for Niskanen, who has had only one outstanding season, but at least he’s a 27-year-old with skill. He might be worth it. Might. The $27.5 million over five years for Orpik has regret written all over it, considering Orpik will turn 34 during camp and already is in decline. Stralman, Ehrhoff and Dan Boyle all signed for smaller cap hits than either of those two.
NHL Network’s Craig Button
Craig Button calls the Brooks Orpik contract the worst given out all day.
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) July 2, 2014
Sportsnet said the same thing during its live coverage.
Sportsnet panel on if Deryk Engelland's contract is worst of the day: "Brooks Orpik's [deal] is the one [we're] still having trouble with."
— RMNB (@russianmachine) July 1, 2014
Scott Burnside believes the Orpik deal “should have come with a detonator.” That doesn’t sound good. He also believes the Niskanen deal is “fraught with danger.”
Let’s start by saying Orpik remains one of our absolute favorite players. Brutally honest, hard as nails, he is the kind of guy any team, and we mean any team, would love to have in their locker room. But at age 33, the fact new Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan offered a five-year deal at the astronomical number of $5.5 per year is just plain cuckoo. Two years at that number? OK. Five years at half that number? Still too long given the toll Orpik’s style of play has taken on his body, but maybe. Now, is it possible Orpik’s presence along with new head coach Barry Trotz helps take the Caps’ a giant step forward? Wouldn’t be surprised at all. But that doesn’t excuse the ridiculous excess of this deal. Does the strangeness of this deal balance out the good work in locking down the top defenseman on the market in another former Penguin Matt Niskanen, whom the Caps inked to a seven-year deal worth $40.25 million? Well, let’s just say both are fraught with danger, but Niskanen was expected to command that kind of deal. Orpik? Not so much.
Former hockey player Justin Bourne thought all three moves were poor. Yes, he didn’t even like the Justin Peters deal.
Brooks Orpik is your prototypical defensive defenseman that teams overvalue because he lands the odd big hit. He doesn’t have a step to give, and when he gives it up to age – he’ll be 34 come next season – he’s going to look like a buyout candidate awfully soon.
Good move? Probably even worse than the Dave Bolland contract.
Holy cashing in on a good year, Batman. Somehow the Caps looked at the Pens d-corps last year and were like “Man, what I wouldn’t pay to have THAT!”
Good move? YeahhhhhNO, not so much.
I’m a little confused by this one, because Holtby appears to be The Guy there, and Phillipp Grubauer seemed to be on his way to make up the Caps tandem. Peters is very much replacement level.
Good move? Not really, no.
In general,the national media believes that the Caps will pay Orpik too much for too long. Many suspect Matt Niskanen won’t be worth the top-echelon money he was paid today. There was no value (that is– getting a lot out of a little) in these moves.
That does not mean these players are John Erskine bad, or that these moves will not have an immediate effect on the roster next season. Combined with Barry Trotz, the Capitals will be different team with a new philosophy next season.
To the media these moves mean that if the Caps don’t immediately become an Stanley Cup contender, they will be hamstrung to fix the team later. And the Caps may still have lots of problems. They’re without a second-line center. The first line was not effective at even strength last season. And there is a bunch of mismatching, similar parts on the second, third, and fourth lines.
If Barry Trotz and this roster “refresh” cannot fix the team’s problems, the Caps will need to get out their bazooka. With the lack of salary cap space, there will be just one option to become a contending team again: a complete rebuild.