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Brooks Orpik happy to be back with Capitals but still felt 'blindsided' by trade to Colorado

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Brooks Orpik happy to be back with Capitals but still felt 'blindsided' by trade to Colorado

Brooks Orpik finished last season as a Capital. He will start the 2018-19 season as a Capital. In between, however, Orpik’s return to Washington took a rather circuitous route in what was, for him, a tumultuous offseason.

Orpik, who will turn 38 before the start of the season, was traded, bought out and ultimately re-signed by the Caps at a lower cap hit. He was slated to enter the final year of a five-year contract he signed with Washington that carried a cap hit of $5.5 million, but things quickly changed when the team drew closer and closer to the salary cap ceiling.

General manager Brian MacLellan was clearly committed to keeping the team together as much as possible for another Stanley Cup run, which was made difficult by the fact that a number of players were in need of a raise.

Soon after John Carlson re-signed for eight years and $64 million, it became clear that the team needed to shed salary. The team simply could not afford a $5.5 million cap hit for a soon-to-be 38-year-old defenseman.

“I'm pretty in tune with the CBA and what our cap situation was, and I'm really good buddies with Johnny Carlson,” Orpik said to NBC Sports Washington after an informal skate at MedStar Iceplex. “… [Carlson] was kind of the wild card. Nobody knew if they were going to be able to re-sign him. I think that was Friday morning, actually, when they kind of agreed upon whatever the structure of his contract was, and that was obvious they needed to clear salaries. That's kind of how the salary cap works. You've got to move money out to add money. That's what happened at the end of the day.”

Orpik was packaged with goalie Philipp Grubauer in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche. Washington received a draft pick and cap flexibility, Colorado received a starting caliber goalie at a cheaper price than it would have cost them without Orpik in the deal and Orpik suddenly received an uncertain future.

“I completely understood what was going on, I just had no knowledge it was coming,” Orpik said. “Even when you understand that side of the business, you still get blindsided by it a little bit.”

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic soon began shopping Orpik and, when there were no takers, Orpik’s contract was ultimately bought out, making him a free agent.

That’s when things got interesting.

The Capitals could not afford a 38-year-old defenseman taking up $5.5 million of cap space. What they did need, however, was a veteran defenseman who could cycle in and out of the lineup on the third pair and who could mentor the team’s young blueliners. Suddenly, re-signing Orpik made a lot of sense.

But was it legal?

By rule, when a team buys out a player’s contract, they cannot immediately re-sign that player just to circumvent the salary cap. Washington, however, didn’t buy out Orpik. Colorado did, which opened the door for a return to Washington.

It was a scenario Orpik had not considered after the trade.

“I didn't really think [signing with Washington] was even a possibility,” he said. “I know how it works, if you get bought out, you can't re-sign with a team for one calendar year. I don't know if anyone's ever even tried to or contemplated doing that after a buyout or if it's ever happened that way, trade, buyout and try to go back.

“It took awhile. I thought I was signing somewhere else, to be honest, but it worked out in the end.”

As a free agent, Orpik had a number of options. Though on the verge of 38, he said he never considered retiring. Instead, it was a matter of deciding where to sign. When it became clear Washington was a possibility, the choice was easy.

With a wife and two daughters already settled in the Washington area,  Orpik jumped at the chance to re-sign with the Caps.

“I think it's a lot easier for players kind of just get up and move,” Orpik said. “It's tougher for families that have a lot of other stuff going on besides hockey to take that kind of news. It definitely worked out the best for us. This is kind of where we had to be.”

The move was a shrewd one by MacLellan who ended up with a veteran defenseman who fills an obvious need at the as a No. 6 or 7 blueliner and at a much lower cap hit. For Orpik, he gets to return to the Caps and join his teammates in their quest to defend their championship.

From the outside looking in, nothing has changed other than Orpik’s cap hit. But that’s not how the saga felt to Orpik as it played out.

“Some people are like, 'Oh, it's like you never left,'” he said. “Yeah, well, as long as you can get by the fact that you got traded.”

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Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks handed the Capitals their fifth straight loss on Sunday in an ugly 8-5 defeat. All five of Washington's goals came from defensemen as the team's top forwards continued to struggle.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

Missed early opportunities

The game got off to a great start. Tom Wilson fed Jakub Vrana in the middle for a great early opportunity and Lars Eller had another shot with the rebound. Washington also got a power play less than two minutes into the game and was brilliant with the setup, keeping the puck in the zone for the full two minutes and getting a number of high-quality opportunities.

But they didn’t score and that soon loomed very large.

Brandon Saad put Chicago on the board 6:36 into the first and Patrick Kane scored 80 seconds later to make it 2-0, thus erasing the Caps’ strong start.

The goals have been hard to come by for the Caps so when they had the opportunity to take the early lead, they absolutely had to finish. They didn’t and the game got away from them as a result.

A bad play by Madison Bowey

Bowey will be cringing at the replay of the Saad goal for a while. Saad broke the puck out of the defensive zone and carried it into the neutral zone. Bowey had a bead on him until Saad cut to the center. Suddenly Bowey was caught flat footed. He reached for Saad with a weak stick check which Saad easily fought through with no real resistance and he was in on net. He finished the play with the game’s first goal.

 An own-goal

This was really the moment when you realized this was not going to be a good day for Washington.

Down 2-0, Brooks Orpik managed to sneak a softy through goalie Colin Delia to make it 2-1. Just 28 seconds later, however, bad luck struck the Caps yet again.

Dmitry Orlov and Jonathan Toews battled for the puck right in front of the crease and it bounced into he air. Orlov swiped at it with his glove to try to clear it from danger, but instead knocked it right over Holtby and into the net. The own goal made it 3-1 and signaled that Washington was in for a long day.

An ill-advised penalty

This game felt like it quickly was getting out of hand. Somehow, however, the Caps managed to keep things close. Dmitry Orlov snuck another squeaker through Delia in the second and John Carlson fired a one-timer early in the third to make the score 4-3. All of a sudden, the Caps had signs of life. With all the momentum on their side, however, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for hooking Toews just 23 seconds later.

You could tell what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Kane scored 13 seconds into the power play to restore the Blackhawks’ two-goal lead.

The Toews hat trick

Once again, Washington tried to battle back. Matt Niskanen scored with just over six minutes remaining in the game, the fifth goal from a Caps’ defenseman, to pull the score to 6-5. Toews provided the coffin nail just over a minute later with an absolutely brutal play on Orlov.

Toews entered the offensive zone and Orlov took an awful approach. Toews finessed the puck right in front of Orlov which he should have been able to easily sweep away. Instead, he whiffed completely allowing Toews to regain the puck, step past Orlov and fired it under the pad and into the net.

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Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

The top line for the Capitals on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks is Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, but the starting lineup is Ovechkin, Backstrom and Devante Smith-Pelly. Why the change?

It all has to do with the last time the Caps visited Chicago nearly a year ago.

On Feb. 17, 2018, Washington went into the United Center and were obliterated by the Blackhawks 7-1. But that wasn’t the ugliest thing to happen that night.

While sitting in the penalty box, Devante Smith-Pelly faced racial taunts from some Chicago fans who began chanting “basketball, basketball” at him.

In the wake of the incident, Smith-Pelly handled himself about as gracefully as one could. So, in the team’s return to Chicago Sunday, head coach Todd Reirden felt he should be on the ice for the national anthem.

According to Pierre McGuire during the game broadcast, the idea came from Oshie himself, who advocated that Smith-Pelly start in his place.

The starters traditionally stand on the ice for the anthem while the rest of the players stand at the bench.

Smith-Pelly has remained active against racism in the sport. He and teammate John Carlson invited a youth hockey team whose lone African-American player had faced racial taunts during a game to the Caps’ game on Monday.

Sunday’s move by Reirden is a classy tribute to Smith-Pelly who handled an ugly situation about as well as one could. 

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