Everyone knew the Caps were going to be in cap trouble this summer.
After loading the roster up for a run at the Stanley Cup, there was no way for general manager Brian MacLellan to keep the team intact another year.
The Capitals had to shed salary and the result has been watching multiple free agents walk and a trade that saw Marcus Johansson shipped to the New Jersey Devils.
But if the team was so desperate to shed salary, why not look to the 36-year-old defenseman with a $5.5 million cap hit?
That is the question a lot of people are asking as the offseason has unfolded.
Brooks Orpik, who will turn 37 in September, has two years remaining on his five-year contract. His cap hit is second among the team's defensemen, behind only Matt Niskanen’s $5.75 million. If the Caps were so desperate to shed salary, why not try to shed Orpik’s?
MacLellan was asked about Orpik’s contract on Monday in a conference call with the media and he made it clear he was still satisfied with the value Orpik brings to Washington.
“I don't know that we really considered that,” MacLellan said when asked about the possibility of a buyout. “I thought Orpik had a good year last year, I thought him and [Nate] Schmidt played really well together on our third pair and I think we value what he brings to young defensemen.”
No one could argue that Orpik’s play on the ice matches his $5.5 million cap hit at this point, but both MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz have been consistent that the team still values what he brings to the locker room in terms of leadership and mentoring younger players.
Plus, MacLellan did not want the resulting cap penalty of a buyout.
“I didn't want a buyout on our salary cap going out four years,” he said. “I didn't think it made sense for us.”
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According to Cap Friendly, a buyout of Orpik’s contract now would result in a $2.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons freeing up $3 million of space. The buyout would continue to count against the cap, however, at $1.5 million for another two seasons aftter Orpik's contract is set to expire. That just did not make sense to MacLellan.
It also should be pointed out that while many see Orpik’s contract as an albatross, MacLellan clearly sees things differently. That was made clear with T.J. Oshie’s new contract.
Orpik was 33 when he signed his current five-year contract. At that age, no one expected Orpik’s play to live up to his $5.5 million cap hit. Knowing that, it may have reflected poorly on MacLellan had he turned around and bought out that contract despite knowing full well Orpik’s play would decline over time.
The Caps now have a similar situation with Oshie who just signed an eight-year deal at the age of 30 which will carry a cap hit of $5.75 million. Oshie will not be a $5.75 million player at the age of 37 when he will still be under contract. Whether Oshie would have been interested in a long-term deal in the wake of the team buying out Orpik in a similar situation is a fair question to ask.
MacLellan has made clear that he is getting exactly what he expected out of Orpik even three years into his contract, Orpik’s main value at this point is his off the ice value. To MacLellan, that still makes the veteran blue liner an important piece to the Capitals, important enough to keep him on the roster despite a major cap crunch.
“We have a bunch of young defensemen that are coming up,” MacLellan said. “I think we have like 10 or 12 guys that are under 22 and they're all pretty good players. We're going to value the ability of Orpik to mentor these guys.”
The move is no doubt a gamble. If Johansson goes on to be a dominant force for the New Jersey Devils, MacLellan will come to rue the day he valued Orpik’s off the ice value over Johansson’s on the ice play. But for now, Orpik means enough to Washington that MacLellan thought keeping Orpik in D.C. was worth the risk.
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