Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.
In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.
Today’s player: No. 10 Brooks Orpik
There are many who believed that the 2016-17 season would be Brooks Orpik's last in Washington.
When the Capitals signed Orpik to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.5 million per year in 2014, it was with the knowledge that his play would not match that cap hit in the later years of the contract. It's safe to say we have now reached that point.
But if you thought that would mean the Capitals would explore a buyout, it certainly does not sound as if general manager Brian MacLellan ever examined that option.
“I don't know that we really considered that,” MacLellan said when asked about a buyout for Orpik in July. “I thought Orpik had a good year last year, I thought him and [Nate] Schmidt played really well together on our third pair and I think we value what he brings to young defensemen.”
Here's the deal: whether you think the Caps should have pursued moving Orpik in the offseason is now irrelevant. He is still on the team, he will be on the team for this season and, with only five defensemen under contract, the Caps will need him to be an everyday player.
Orpik, who will turn 37 before the start of the season, is a physical, shutdown defenseman. He does not have great speed which can get him into trouble in this age of hockey when speed and quick transitions are more the norm. He also has a tendency of getting caught pinching in the neutral zone looking for a hit and he does not have the wheels to get back in time to cover his mistake.
The Caps may expect Orpik to be an everyday player, but it is going to be on the third pairing. Even after losing Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt, Orpik's days of being a top-four player are over.
So why does a bottom-pairing defenseman climb all the way to No. 10 on our list? The team greatly values his leadership in the locker room, but what really makes him important this season is how much the coaches will lean on him to help the younger players.
As mentioned above, the Caps have only five NHL defensemen under contract for this season. Assuming they keep seven on the roster (three pairs, plus one extra), that leaves two open spots that will likely be filled throughout the season by prospects such as Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Orpik is going to spend most, if not the entire season playing alongside a young prospect and the coaches are going to lean heavily on his experience and leadership to help those players develop.
“We have a bunch of young defensemen that are coming up,” MacLellan said. “I think we have like 10 or 12 guys that are under 22 and they're all pretty good players. We're going to value the ability of Orpik to mentor these guys.”
The Caps are taking a gamble by looking to their prospects to fill not just one, but two holes in their defense next season including a spot in the top four. The more Orpik can help those rookies with the transition to the NHL, the better the Caps will be as a team.
Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.
— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
— No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker
— No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
— No. 17 Christian Djoos
— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana