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Brooks Orpik hopes to adapt to an evolving NHL game

Brooks Orpik hopes to adapt to an evolving NHL game

You don’t have to be a hockey expert to realize that Brooks Orpik does not fit the mold of today’s NHL. The league is becoming younger and faster and those are two words that certainly do not describe the 37-year old defenseman.

But this is not news to Orpik. 

“I think the most important thing is you have to realize that you have to make adjustments to your game,” Orpik told NBC Sports Washington on Tuesday. “If you don't, then you're probably not going to be playing much longer.”

RELATED: ANOTHER SUSPENSION FOR TOM WILSON

Orpik has always been a physical, stay at home defenseman. Puck handling and speed are not his strength and for most of his career, that was fine. But now the league is moving in a new direction and it threatens to leave him behind. There were several points in the playoffs in which it looked like he was exposed by the speed of the Pittsburgh Penguins. There were also moments throughout he season in which Orpik would get caught pinching in the neutral zone and did not have the wheels to recover.

In his time in Washington, Orpik has gone from one of the team’s top defensemen to a projected third-pairing player heading into this season. Part of that has to do with his age, but the perceived decline was accelerated by his style of play.

That was something Orpik had to change.

Orpik joined Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara to work with a power skating trainer in the summer. The towering Bruins defenseman is 40 and appears less and less mobile with every passing year making his situation similar to that of Orpik’s.

For Orpik, the training proved to be very different from what he is used to.

“It’s something that I think that was probably crucial to kind of adjusting to the way the game is evolving and changing and doing some stuff that probably felt a little uncomfortable,” Orpik said. “But it was stuff that was probably necessary to work on and improve on just in terms of how the game's evolving. Even if the game wasn't evolving, I think just as you get older you've got to make adjustments to how you train skating wise and off the ice.”

Specifically, the training emphasized speed and skating over strength.

“Strength you don't really lose," Orpik said. "Obviously maintaining or trying to improve speed is more crucial than trying to get a little bit stronger in the gym.”

MORE CAPITALS: BOWEY, CHIASSON LEFT OUT OF THE CAPS' FIRST 23, BUT THE ROSTER IS FAR FROM SET

That training will be put to the test as Orpik looks poised to start the season in the top four playing alongside John Carlson. Orpik was projected to be on the third pairing, but with none of the team's prospects excelling in training camp to a large degree, finding a dependable partner for Carlson has proven difficult. The two began practicing together on Saturday and Barry Trotz made it known it was not just a temporary move.

When asked Saturday if he’s considering that pair to start the season, Trotz said, “Yes, we are. We are considering that, especially with the number of road games that we have. It could help restart [Carlson]. They were a terrific complement together a couple of years ago, so we’re just rewinding the clock a little bit, if you will.”

Whether Orpik’s summer training will allow him to personally “rewind the clock” remains to be seen.

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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

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Twitter/@PeachOmania

This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?