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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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As Capitals prepare for fourth preseason game, Devante Smith-Pelly still remains absent from game action

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As Capitals prepare for fourth preseason game, Devante Smith-Pelly still remains absent from game action

When the Capitals take to the ice in Carolina on Friday, they will again be without playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly who has yet to play in the preseason.

Friday’s game will be Washington’s fourth of the preseason contest.

By now, every skater on the roster has played in at least one game except for Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller and John Carlson. Eller and Carlson both dealt with minor lower-body injuries that held them out of the first few days of training camp, but there has been no such issue for Smith-Pelly who has participated in every practice.

“He's still trying to get to the level where he was at last year and until he does, it doesn't do us any good as a team or for him to be playing in games,” head coach Todd Reirden said when asked about Smith-Pelly remaining out of game action. “He's working really hard to get back to that spot and he's close, but until he's at that spot, he won't be in the lineup because I don't feel that's setting a player up for success at all. We're hoping that that's in the next little bit here.”

When asked what the specific issue was with Smith-Pelly, Reirden declined to elaborate saying only, “He's just not at the level that he was at last year. That to me is really all there is to say about it. Once he gets there, he'll be in and he'll be helping us.”

For his part, Smith-Pelly told reporters he was not dealing with any injuries and that not playing was simply a coach’s decision.

“It was a short summer,” he said. “I'm not going to make any excuse or anything, but it was a short summer, a little different. Everyone's trying to get ready for the start of the year and everyone's path is a little bit different.”

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in 75 games for the Caps in the regular season but was phenomenal in the playoffs with seven more goals in just 24 games leading to a new one-year contract with Washington.

With a roster competition for the fourth line, Smith-Pelly’s absence is not ideal, but he is in a much different position this year than last when he entered camp on a two-way contract. Now his contract is one-way and, based on Reirden’s comments, his playoff performance speaks for itself.

“[Smith-Pelly] had just a phenomenal postseason for us and he's a really important player for us. If you don't get that sort of impact from your bottom six guys then you're not going to win the Stanley Cup and he was a huge part for us. Like I said, we need him in there and I hope to have him in there soon.”

“I want to play every game, but that's coach's decision to get everyone ready for when it matters,” Smith-Pelly said. “Just like everyone else, I'm working to be ready for October 3.”

Eller will make his preseason debut in Carolina, but Carlson remains out of the lineup as well. Reirden said Carlson’s absence was a precaution and the hope is that he will be ready to play in Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blue.s

“[Carlson’s] done some more contact in scrimmages and in practice,” Reirden said. “He's really close, but again, it doesn't set the player up for any kind of success if we put him out there and take the chance of losing valuable players when they're not ready to go and up to speed.”

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Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

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Capitals vs. Hurricanes preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

The preseason continues after the Capitals' loss in Montreal Thursday night. They are hoping to gain some momentum and dominate in Friday's game.

Even without the home advantage, they hope to take home a win as they face the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes are one of the four teams the Capitals will face in preseason play, along with the Bruins, Canadiens and Blues.

The Capitals and Hurricanes will meet once again, next Friday at Capital One Arena. But first, it's time to get back on the ice for Game 4 of the seven-game preseason schedule.

CAPITALS-HURRICANES PRESEASON GAME 4: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina

When: Friday, September, 21, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Hurricanes preseason game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Hurricanes preseason on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-HURRICANES PRESEASON TV SCHEDULE:

7:00 PM: Washington Capitals: My Day with the Cup (R)
7:30 PM: NHL Preseason: Capitals @ Carolina Hurricanes 
10:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live (LIVE)

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