With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 44 Brooks Orpik
Age: 35 (turns 36 on Sept. 26)
Penalty minutes: 24
Time on ice: 19:48
Playoff stats: 6 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, minus-3, 10 PIM, 21:05
Contract status: Three years remaining on 5-year, $27.5 million contract. ($5.5 million cap hit, $5.5 million salary each of next 2 seasons, $4.5 million in 2018-19).
From missing half of the regular season with a broken leg and half of the playoffs with a concussion and a three-game suspension, it’s fair to say the 2015-16 season is one Brooks Orpik would like to erase from his memory, especially when you consider how it ended.
Seven minutes into Game 6 against the Penguins at Consol Energy Center, Orpik sat helplessly in the penalty box, punishment for his double minor for inadvertently high-sticking Patric Hornqvist, and watched Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin score back-to-back power-play goals to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead just 7:38 into the game. The Penguins eventually won the game 4-3 in overtime to clinch the series.
“It’s 1-0 and we were in a pretty good spot there,” Orpik recalled. “Our penalty kill had been really good all year, especially in the playoffs (killing off 15 of 16 against the Penguins), and against a power play that good you’re asking for trouble the more penalties you take.
“It’s frustrating. When it happened I didn’t even know what happened and when you watch the replay it’s probably even more frustrating because I think (Hornqvist) was trying to trip me or hook me and you kind of lose balance. I guess the rule is you have to be responsible for your stick, but when you’re falling down that’s kind of tough. (To see two power-play goals) off a penalty like that it’s probably as frustrating as being in the box when you get a penalty for shooting the puck over the glass like they were (three times in the final 10 minutes of regulation). Some odd calls to say the least.
“The series as a whole obviously didn’t go as planned. It’s really frustrating, but you’ve just gotta learn from it. You can’t change what happened. In terms of the last game, we push it to overtime on the road and it could have gone either way. It’s not the outcome we wanted. It was probably the best team we faced all year, especially the way they were playing the last couple months of the season. I think when you look at the series as a whole, the four losses we had, two in overtime and two by one goal, the margin for error wasn’t very great and I think if the two teams played another series … I think it was anyone’s series and the two teams were really evenly matched, but when you don’t get the outcome you’re looking for you’re frustrated.”
In case you’re counting that’s five uses of the words “frustrated” or “frustration.” In his 11-minute post-season interview with reporters, Orpik used some variation of “frustration” 10 times.
Orpik’s forgettable season first took a downward turn on Oct. 30 when he blocked a shot, then suffered what he thought was a charley horse when he was kneed in his thigh against the Columbus Blue Jackets. X-rays later revealed Orpik had a fractured femur, but not before he had played five additional games.
“Every time I skated on it, it got progressively worse and worse,” he said. “That was the start of it. … I was somewhat trying to play through it at the beginning and wound up making it a lot worse, so that was pretty frustrating. It was something I thought was a day-to-day thing that turned into skating on it and making it worse and have it turn into an 8-to-10 week injury was pretty frustrating. Hopefully, it’s something that will heal up (this summer).”
Orpik missed 40 straight games from Nov. 12 through Feb. 13 and the Caps went 30-6-4 in that stretch, building a comfortable lead in the Metro Division and Eastern Conference standings.
“I think any time you’re out, no matter how much time it is, I think you feel like you’re letting a lot of people down,” he said. “I think personally, I put a lot of time into taking care of my body and sometime there’s stuff that’s unavoidable you have to deal with. I’ve never really had a real significant injury in my career and having to deal with that that for the first time was something new for me and it probably made it more frustrating.”
Orpik’s time on the injured list gave the Caps a chance to get an extended look at defensemen Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov, who thrived with the increased ice time.
In fact, general manager Brian MacLellan said he’d like to see if Orlov, who becomes a restricted free agent this summer, is ready to become a top-four defenseman next season.
“I would count on (Orlov) developing and getting to that next level,” MacLellan told 106.7 The Fan. “The idea would be, Brooks Orpik plays a little less minutes and Orlov plays a little bit more, maybe he moves into the top four for part of the time. That would be the ideal situation, but we’ll have to see how he comes into camp.”
Orpik’s average ice time dropped about 2 minutes this season, from 21:47 to 19:48, while Orlov averaged 16:01. Approaching 36 years old, it’s conceivable Orpik could see those numbers reversed next season, with him dropping to a third pairing while being used as a primary penalty killer.
It’s also conceivable Orpik is left exposed by the Capitals for the 2017 NHL expansion draft. He would be a desirable asset to a new team if he can bounce back with an injury-free season in 2016-17.
For now, however, Orpik sees the Capitals as a team with a one-year window of opportunity to win with the group currently assembled.
“Individually, I think every year you lose, especially when you’re on a good team capable of winning, I think you look at them as missed opportunities,” he said. “I think everybody feels that way here. Whether you like it or not, you only have so many years and so many realistic years of winning it. I think everybody’s aware of that.
“Everybody is getting a year older, obviously, every season that goes by and you don’t win. I don’t know. It’s only been my second year and I know there’s a lot made of not getting by the second round and I’m sure people feel that frustration, but I’ve lost in the Finals before and whether you lose in the Finals or if you lose in the second round, you lost. The goal here is to win the Stanley Cup and I can tell people you don’t feel any better losing in the Finals than you do losing in the second round. I mean, you either win or you lose.
“I know a lot has been placed on guys that have been here like Ovi and Backy, that they can’t get by the second round. I mean, there’s 29 teams that don’t win every year. I think people have to realize that, especially the way the playoff format is set up now. We probably played the best team in the league in the second round. So maybe we don’t play them and maybe we move on to the third round or the Finals and we lose there. Like I said, if you don’t win it you don’t feel any better losing in the Finals or losing in the first round or second round. I don’t think anyone’s celebrating getting to the third round if you lose.”
As a member of the Penguins for 11 seasons, Orpik said the Pens took on a new identity under head coach Mike Sullivan and were the best team in the NHL heading into the post-season. Through 21 playoff games, the Pens have proven him right, leading the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in the Cup finals.
“It’s all about timing,” Orpik said. “The year we won it in Pittsburgh (in 2009) I think at the trade deadline we were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. It’s all about getting hot at the right time and peaking at the right time. Maybe we peaked at the wrong time, I don’t know. Like I said, I thought we were just as good as them if we played to our potential. But in the six games we played against them they played a little better than we did. That’s what they’ve done since Mike took their team over and that’s what you need this time of year.
“I think the biggest thing is you’ve heard people allude to killer instinct. I think that’s the biggest thing. In Game 3, when you outplay a team that badly you just gotta find a way to win. There were opportunities we had where we probably could have taken control of the series and we didn’t. That’s the biggest thing we can learn.”
MORE CAPITALS: 2015-16 SEASON IN REVIEW: TOM WILSON