The Washington Capitals are out in Phoenix ahead of their game with the Coyotes on Tuesday. And our mustachioed heroes have made the most of their off day. Alex Ovechkin put on his favorite Vladimir Putin t-shirt and took a selfie with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. I’m pretty sure that shirt is honoring Putin and making him look like a action movie star, which, uh, yeah.
Other Caps players actually made it out of the hotel rooms.
Last week we looked at the Caps forward deployment thus far under Barry Trotz. This week, I’m going to take a look at the defense. In doing so, we’ll find the Caps have a shutdown pair fairing questionably, a steadying pair that may be better suited to shutdown than our current shutdown pair, and then a pair of possession monsters who are owning the minutes they are being given.
As the temperatures outside reached the 90s, Caps prospects and free agent invitees gathered inside a freezing Kettler Capitals Iceplex Monday for the first day of the team’s annual Development Camp. Afterwards, head coach Barry Trotz met the media. After focusing on the young players who will be Arlington this week, the conversation turned to the recent signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Orpik’s 5-year, $27.5 million deal has been much maligned, as Orpik is an aging poor possession player.
The Washington Capitals’ defense was really bad last season. Adam Oates and George McPhee suited up fourteen (!) defensemen over the course of the season and got little success for their effort. Fixing the blue line was priority one in free agency for new GM Brian MacLellan, and he delivered in a big way, bringing ex-Pens Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to town (as well as their former defensive coach, Todd Reirden).
The new Caps D-corps is definitely improved– but at a great cost. Orpik and Niskanen cost a combined $11.25M per season. Washington now sports the most expensive defense in the league (more than Philly once you factor in Chris Pronger’s sadly never-ending LTIR). With all that– rather pricey– new blood, let’s explore how the Caps might line up in October.
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.
On a hot late spring day a little over a month ago, Brian MacLellan met the media for the first time as general manager of the Washington Capitals. The move to hire him was surprising, with MacLellan’s only executive experience coming under his recently fired boss George McPhee. But in his first press conference, MacLellan conveyed a more analytic tone than McPhee. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis praised MacLellan as someone who would “refresh” an organization with an already strong core.
Many fans feared MacLellan would be a continuation of McPhee, accepting the status quo and perpetually insisting the Capitals could paper over their flaws. Instead, he has transformed the team in one day, spending a stunning $67.5 million.
“I think we had some needs and we addressed them,” MacLellan told reporters. “We had cap room. Ownership gave the green light to get to the cap and we spent the money where we thought we needed to spend it the most.”
Christian Ehrhoff’s buyout makes him the best defenseman available. (Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Caps didn’t acquire any NHL players at the draft, so they now look to fill empty roster spots in free agency, which begins at noon.
The team’s primary need is a top-four defenseman who can play with Karl Alzner, Mike Green, and John Carlson. Dmitry Orlov did an okay job at that role last season, but the Caps may want to see a more seasoned player there, especially if playing away from Mike Green might mean Orlov could better utilize his offensive tools.
Here’s my take on four options for defense on the open market.
A move to Washington would keep Niskanen with his old defensive coach, Todd Reirden, who coached the blueliner in Pittsburgh and can speak knowledgeably about the player to the Caps front office. And at a glance, Niskanen looks like a very strong player.
Let’s check out ExtraSkater.com, which is the best site on the internet next to the Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator. Last year with Pittsburgh, Niskanen saw 53.4 percent of shot attempts belong to his team during 5v5– a number 7.3 percent better than when he was off the ice. In 2012-13, he had a 51.2 percent shot-attempt percentage, a 3.6 percent improvement compared to when he was on the bench.