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How 37-year-old Brooks Orpik is handling a heavy workload on the Caps' blue lines

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How 37-year-old Brooks Orpik is handling a heavy workload on the Caps' blue lines

Brooks Orpik played a reduced role for the Capitals last season on the third pairing averaging just 17:47 of ice time per game. This season? Well, that’s gone up a bit.

With no Nate Schmidt, Kevin Shattenkirk or Karl Alzner, Orpik has suddenly become one of the team’s workhorses.

“This year we lost a lot of luxuries," Orpik said Tuesday after practice. "I think we all knew it was going to be a little bit different and [Matt Niskanen] getting hurt obviously complicated that even more. That put a big hole in our lineup."

At 37 years old, the veteran blue liner currently sits third on the team in ice time per game with 22:16. That would be the highest average he has seen since the 2012-13 season while a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the third-highest average of his career.

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Did I mention he is 37?

One of the elephants in the room for the Capitals is that the minutes their top defensemen are playing is not sustainable. John Carlson played 28:51 and 27:38 in back-to-back games over the weekend. Orpik was not far behind with 27:47 and 23:59.

The question for Orpik is how this will affect him game by game and over the course of the season.

In terms of game by game, few players are as prepared to handle a large workload than Orpik who prides himself on his conditioning.

“I don't think conditioning has ever been a problem with me," he said. "It's something I take a lot of pride in. I'm pretty diligent with my diet and getting extra cardio in. I think you prepare yourself the same way every year. You never know what kind of role they're going to give you and whatever opportunity they give you, you just try to make the most of the minutes you have.”

According to Orpik, how taxing any single night ends up being depends more on the type of minutes he is asked to play rather than the number.

“Sometimes you play 20 minutes and you're exhausted and other times you could play 25 and you're not nearly as tired just because of the way the game play's out, but it's not as physical or if you're not playing in your own zone as much. And then shorthanded minutes are a little bit more taxing I think then the other minutes.”

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Yet another reason why it is critical for the Capitals to stay out of penalty box.

In addition to his offseason training, Orpik has also turned to another NHL player for guidance, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter.

"If you watch the way he plays, he doesn't waste any energy," Orpik said of Suter. "He uses his body real well, but he's not real physical. Physically, you've got to pick your spots a little bit better. If you go out there and run around and try to be really physical, it's tough to play more than 20 minutes no matter how good a shape your in. A lot of times you just try to play better positionally. You still want to have the same approach physically but you just try to pick your spots a little better."

Suter’s workload has been ridiculous throughout his career. In the six seasons he has spent with Minnesota, his average time on ice during that time has been a whopping 28:17. If there is anyone who knows how to handle big minutes, it’s Suter. At 32, however, Suter has played those minutes through the prime of his career. Orpik’s challenge is to learn how to continue playing effectively late in his career.

The silver lining for the Caps is that Orpik won’t have to do this forever. Not only is Matt Niskanen expected to return from an upper-body injury in November, but rookies Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey will be able to handle more and more playing time as the season progresses. Until then, however, Barry Trotz seems content with riding his veteran blue liners as far as they can take the team.

Said Orpik, “That's why they make training camp as hard as it is.”

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The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

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USA TODAY Sports

The NHL salary cap numbers are in, what does it mean for the Caps?

The NHL released the salary cap range for the 2018-19 season on Thursday. That sound you hear is the general managers frantically typing numbers into adding machines to figure out which of their players they can afford and which they are going to have to let walk.

The cap ceiling will rise from last year's $75 million all the way up to $79.5 million with the cap floor set at $58.8 million.

So what does this mean for the Capitals?

Here's a look at the team's pending free agents:

Unrestricted free agents: Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Wayne Simpson

Restricted free agents: Riley Barber, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Adam Carlson, Philipp Grubauer, Tim McGauley, Liam O'Brien, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson

We will not know exactly who will make the roster, so to project how much money the Caps will have to work with, let's assume Nathan Walker makes the team and Shane Gersich goes to the AHL. That will give the Caps a little less than $14.8 million with which to work.

Considering the team will need to use about half of that number if not more to re-sign Carlson, that's not a whole lot to work with.

Is $7 million enough to re-sign Beagle, Kempny, Bowey, Smith-Pelly and Wilson? Probably not and that does not even account for prospects who will try to compete for the NHL roster such as Barber and Boyd.

Here's what the cap ceiling tells us:

  • The team's entire offseason will depend on if the team can re-sign Carlson and for how much.
  • Carlson's cap hit last season was just under $4 million. A $4.5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling doesn't mean much when Carlson is going to get a raise of $3 million or more.
  • Grubauer will almost certainly be traded because he is an asset and because there won't be enough money for the team to commit $1.5 million or more to the backup goalie like they did last season.
  • If Carlson returns, fan favorite Beagle has almost certainly played his last game as a Cap. Everyone wants him back, but he would have to take a severe discount for the Caps to fit him and even then, he would be taking away a roster spot from a young prospect ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Free agency opens July 1.

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Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz did not remain unemployed for very long.

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title, resigned from his post less than a week after the team's championship parade in Washington, D.C.

But on Thursday, the Capitals' now former bench boss was officially named the head coach of the New York Islanders.

Trotz's contract was expected to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, but upon winning the Stanley Cup, an automatic two-year extension was triggered, raising his $1.5 million yearly salary by $300,000. But Trotz wanted to be compensated as one of the top five coaches in the NHL.

While the terms of his deal have yet to be finalized, according to Elliotte Friedman, Trotz's deal could be in the 5-year, $20 million range.

With the Islanders, Trotz inherits a team that finished 35-37-10 last season under head coach Doug Weight, despite having John Tavares, one of the best centers in the NHL, and several young studs like Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Ho-Sang. But Tavares enters the offseason as a free agent, and many teams will be looking to pay top-dollar for his services. 

Trotz will report to Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders' president and general manager in May after spending three seasons in the same role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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