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

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USA TODAY Sports

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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Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

The return of Tom Wilson Tuesday gave Todd Reirden his full offensive lineup for the first time this season. It is not hard to figure out where he fits in the lineup. The real question is now what his return means for the rest of the roster.

Wilson found a home on the top line last season alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He provides defensive balance to a very offensive duo; he is able to win puck battles along the boards because of his physical play, which generates more offense and he has the offensive skill and skating ability to keep up with his incredibly skilled linemates.

That was all evident on Tuesday, as Wilson scored a goal in his return in very typical Wilson fashion.

After trying in vain to find a suitable replacement for Wilson on the top line, Reirden immediately plugged him back into the top line. Instantly, a lineup that looked jumbled with players trying to find their spots suddenly looked complete again. The top nine that Washington rode to the Stanley Cup last season was restored.

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly

With Wilson back, Washington is at the maximum roster limit of 23 players and just slightly under the salary cap. But they also have two extra forwards on the roster. Most teams do not typically carry two extra forwards because it means sitting two assets in the press box every single night. You need one to plug in in case of emergency, but a second is most likely better served being traded or moved down to the AHL.

Assuming the top nine sticks, that leaves the team with Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin.

If the Caps were interested in moving one of those players, a fourth line player won’t yield much in a trade. That makes placing a player on waivers as the best option.

The question is who?

There are compelling reasons to keep each of those five players. Dowd and Boyd are centers and a team can never have enough of those, Smith-Pelly was one of the team’s playoff heroes with seven goals in the postseason and Stephenson brings a lot of speed. The most likely choice would appear to be Jaskin who has only two points in 12 games since he was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Blues. There is clear potential there and he has improved drastically since he was first acquired just prior to the start of the season. There is definitely more there than what we have seen from him.

But Jaskin also was not part of last season’s Stanley Cup roster.

The good news for Jaskin and all the team’s depth players is that there is no rush for the Caps to make any sort of roster move since they can technically carry the current roster as is and, per Cap Friendly, they can still fit everyone when Brooks Orpik returns from LTIR by sending Jonas Siegenthaler back down to Hershey.

But a decision is likely to come sooner rather than later to avoid having to sit two forwards in the press box every night. That makes these next few games critical for everyone on the fourth line to make an impression.

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Capitals mailbag: With Tom Wilson back, does that fix the penalty kill?

Capitals mailbag: With Tom Wilson back, does that fix the penalty kill?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Nov. 14 edition below. Have you got a Caps question you want to be answered in next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

Getting Tom Wilson back certainly helps in terms of the penalty kill. The Caps killed off five out of six power plays in Tuesday’s win over Minnesota and the only goal they gave up came after the game was no longer in doubt. In his very first game back, Wilson logged 5:23 shorthanded minutes so you can see how important he is.

Todd Reirden wanted the penalty kill to be more aggressive this season, but the Caps have not found a way to do that while not leaving themselves vulnerable defensively. It will take time to adjust. The first goal of the game Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes came because the penalty kill got caught in the offensive zone with three Caps players going behind the goal line and they could not get back in time to set up. That’s a coachable moment. You show that video and tell the players if you are on the PK, you should never be behind the goal line.

The best thing they can do is study Arizona’s penalty kill. The Coyotes rank first in the league at 90.6-percent and have also scored an unfathomable nine shorthanded goals already, less than a quarter of the way into the season. That’s the type of penalty kill Reirden is looking for so find out what makes it so effective and replicate that.

Let’s not get too low on the power play. It still ranks second in the NHL at 30.3-percent. The production we saw at the beginning of the season was simply unsustainable. The bigger problem offensively has been five-on-five scoring, but Wilson’s return has set the lines right so that should improve as well.

From Nathan S.: I always hear that what happens on the ice stays there but I have to imagine that some tense words can be exchanged between players who have had nasty hits on them, i.e., would Pens players “have words” with Wilson about his dirty hits if they came across him in a bar? Do players ever confront their opponents off ice or do they all go hang out together after the games the way NBA players apparently do?

There are occasions where bad blood can carry over off the ice. It happens, but for the most part players and coaches are good at moving on.

It is important to remember that the division among teams and rivalries run much deeper among the fans than they do for the players. Players are very good at compartmentalizing and moving on from frustrating incidents because they have to, not just in terms of looking towards the next game, but because of their relationships with one another. These players train together, many have played together or will play together in the future. Heck, you may even play for some of those players you play against someday so it doesn’t make sense to burn bridges because you can’t let something that happened on the ice go.

Dmitrij Jaskin fought Wilson on Sept. 22, 2017. The Caps didn’t ask him if he was still upset with Wilson before claiming him off waivers because you have to move on.

That’s not to say all the players like each other. I’m sure Alex Ovechkin and Nazem Kadri aren’t buddies just like I doubt Zach Aston-Reese will be sending Wilson a Christmas card this year. But most players are smart enough to know to leave it on the ice.

Ryleigh V writes: How can I meet Oshie?

The Caps hold a number of events every year in which players interact with fans. Oshie in particular is very good at those kinds of things. My advice would be to check on the Caps’ website or their twitter account for any update on any local events. Sometimes you can meet players after practice as well at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, but not always.

Or you could just try to catch the same Metro train as him on the way to a game. If you do meet him, just don’t ask him to drink a beer through his shirt. A lot of people keep asking him to do that.