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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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Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

The bye week and the all-star break are upon us meaning we will have to wait until Jan. 27 for the Capitals to take the ice again for a game. With the season over halfway done and the Feb. 24 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the focus of the season now shifts towards the playoffs.

Washington has certainly done enough at this point to show they are a playoff team, but just how good are they? Are they a true contender or are they destined for an early exit?

Over the next few days, I will examine the team to answer if it is good enough on offense, defense and in net to win a Cup and, if not, what they must do to improve by April.

Today’s question: Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

Team stats
3.55 goals per game (1st in the NHL)
20.3-percent power play (13th in the NHL)

Goal leaders
1. Alex Ovechkin 34
2. Jakub Vrana 22
3. T.J. Oshie 18

Assist leaders
1. John Carlson 47
2. Nicklas Backstrom 29
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov 26

Point leaders
1. John Carlson 60
2. Alex Ovechkin 50
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov 42

Just in case you forgot about Ovechkin, he just let everyone know that yes, he is still outrunning Father Time with eight goals in the past three games. He remains one of the top scorers in the league, that is beyond dispute and so is this team's the top-six.

Backstrom, Wilson, Vrana, Kuznetsov and Oshie round out one of the best top two lines in the NHL. There are only a few minor concerns with this group.

Vrana and Kuznetsov have proven to be streaky performers. When they are hot, they are among the top offensive players in the NHL. Vrana is actually tied with David Pastrnak for third in the NHL in even-strength goals with 21. He is as dangerous a goal-scorer as just about anyone in the league. And everyone knows how good Kuznetsov can be at his peak. Just look at the 2018 Cup run.

You just have to cross your fingers and hope Vrana and Kuznetsov don’t get cold in the postseason because when their production tapers off, it craters.

Moving on to the bottom-six, let’s start with the fourth line because it is easier. Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway is one of, if not the outright best fourth line in hockey. They are able to hem opponents into the offensive zone and allow very little in the way of scoring opportunities. If you put any credence into things like Corsi, Nic Dowd is the best on the team with a Corsi-For percentage of 57.22 while Leipsic is 54.04 and Hathaway is 54.43. In a nutshell, what that means is this line is generating a heck of a lot more offensive opportunities than it is allowing which is a huge asset to have for a fourth line.

What’s more, these guys are the kind of players you hate to play against. Hathaway and Leipsic both play with an edge and Leipsic has a fair amount of speed as well. They have to make sure they limit the penalties they take, but otherwise this line is a huge asset.

That brings us to the third line.

While the offense is starting to pick up slightly, overall the numbers have just not been there. Lars Eller is doing fine with 11 goals and 16 assists, but Richard Panik is having a tough first year with five goals and five assists while Carl Hagelin has only three goals and eight assists and that’s including the two goals he scored in the past week.

Even as the line continues to improve, I do not think at its peak it is going to prove to be as good offensively as once hoped.

The third line has definitely found a role as a shutdown line, however, which is how Reirden has been utilizing them of late, using them to shut-down one of the opposition’s top lines both to limit their offense and also to free up Ovechkin’s line by getting it away from that matchup.

That’s easier to do at home, now Reirden has to figure out just how to best utilize the third line one the road where it is tougher to get the matchups you want.

Overall, however, this line is trending in the right direction. The power play, however, is not.

Though it ranks 13th in the NHL, that percentage is being propped up by a good start. Since Dec. 1, the power play ranks 30th in the NHL at 14.1-percent. The offense has just been non-existent. The struggles have clearly gone to the head of the players because it becomes a comedy of errors on the ice every time the team gets the man advantage. Reirden has tried Vrana on the top unit in Kuznetsov’s spot, but that spot is not well suited for Vrana as he is a sniper and Kuznetsov plays primarily around the goal line where shots are hard to come by. Kuznetsov on the second unit is largely wasted as there is not enough scoring talent on that unit for him to set up.

The result is two power play units playing without confidence and not producing while also allowing far too many shorthanded goals.

The verdict: Yes, the Caps have the offense to win the Cup.

In terms of the personnel, it is hard to get better than what the Caps have. The top two lines are loaded with talent and the fourth line is the best at what it does. The offense is lacking on the third line, but Reirden has found a role for it in which it can still have a positive impact on the game and its offensive production seems to be improving.

The only real concern is the power play, not only because it is completely ineffective but because the team is pressing so hard it has allowed five shorthanded goals, tied for the most in the league. As bad as it is, however, I think this is a case of frustration making things worse. With the personnel this team has, there is no reason for it to be producing at only 14.1-percent. Once they string a few goals together, things will turn around. I don’t think it will be among the most potent in the NHL, but I do think this is a low point and a natural progression will occur.

After the power play, however, it is hard to find a more potent offense than the one assembled in Washington.

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Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

The Capitals may not be participating in Stadium Series this year, but the team is embracing outdoor hockey around Washington for spirited game day fun.

The Caps are hosting Rock The Rink skates at The Wharf, Penatgon Row, Rockville Town Square and The Avenue at White Marsh on select game days from January to March 2020. Fans attending these events can wear Capitals jerseys or gear to get either $5 off admission or free skate rentals.

The Wharf

Jan. 18 at 1 p.m., Jan. 31 at 6 p.m., and Feb 17. at 1 p.m.

Transit Pier will boast a Capitals-paneled ice rink with an ice resurfacer, trivia contests, giveaways, along with a DJ. The Capitals Campire will also boast Adirondack chairs around a fire to roast marshmallows for smores in front of a 14-foot jumbotron screen to watch the Capitals games. 

Pentagon Row

Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. and March 9 at 6 p.m.

These skates will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants. The Caps games will also be on at surrounding bars. 

The Avenue at White March

Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.

This event will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants.

Rockville Town Square

Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. and March 5 at 6 p.m.

In addition to the above fun, Rockville native and Capitals hockey ambassador Haley Skarupa will be there on Jan. 31. You can watch the Capitals game at local bars as well. 

Fans attending these events or using local outdoor rinks this season are encouraged to post about it on social media by tagging @capitals and using the hashtag #RockTheRink to enter themselves for a chance to win prizes.

Caps slept through the first 40 minutes, they did not give Holtby much help though he was bad in his own right and Vrana sure did show something with the game-winning goal.

As for no penalties...not so much.

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