Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had a lot to say on Tuesday when he met with the media. Overtly, he did not say much about defenseman Brooks Orpik or Karl Alzner, but what you see when you read between the lines spoke volumes as to what their future with the team may be.
The Capitals are a team that will be strapped for cash this offseason thanks to several restricted free agents in need of new contracts such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Nate Schmidt. One potential way to relieve some of that pressure would be to buy out a player.
Orpik will be 37 years old at the start of next season. He has two years remaining on his five-year contract and carries a cap hit of $5.5 million. It is no secret Orpik’s on-ice performance no longer lives up to his cap hit which has led to speculation that he could be a potential buyout candidate this offseason. On Tuesday, MacLellan put an end to that notion.
When asked about any potential buyouts this offseason, MacLellan said, “No, I don’t expect to have any.”
The first question many will have is why not? Orpik remains a physical presence on the blue line, but his lack of speed is ill-suited to the quickening pace of today’s NHL. If the Caps are in need of cap space, why not buy him out?
The most likely answer will be totally unsatisfying to many fans: Intangibles. His true value to Washington is not what he does on the ice, but what he brings off of it.
When asked about Orpik in March, Barry Trotz said, “Teams follow their leaders and he's one of our important leaders. He quietly will, not really grab a guy, but he'll quietly make a suggestion if there's someone who's maybe not acting the right way or performing the right way and I think that has a real big impact because he's so respected in the room.”
Not many teams will be clamoring to trade for a 37-year-old defenseman with a significant cap hit, so it seems safe to say that without a buyout, Orpik will be returning to the fold again next season.
But what about Alzner? This is where you have to read between the lines.
When talking about how the team will retool for next season, MacLellan said of the defense, “[Dmitry Orlov]’s already top-four. [Nate Schmidt]’s going to move into the top-four.”
If the team has Orlov and Schmidt in the top four, along with Matt Niskanen and John Carlson and we know Orpik will be returning, then that does not leave much room left for Alzner.
An Orpik-Alzner pair would be a disaster with neither player bringing much in the way of speed to the table. Could Alzner potentially slide to the third pair and play alongside a prospect or Taylor Chorney? Perhaps, but if MacLellan thought Orpik would spend the majority of next season as a healthy scratch, you have to believe a buyout would still be on the table. It doesn’t matter what his leadership is, you cannot have $5.5 million sitting in the press box.
MacLellan did not mention Alzner once during his availability and in truth, it seems hard to find a spot for him in the lineup given what MacLellan had to say about the makeup of the top-four. As an unrestricted free agent, it appears Alzner's time in Washington is at an end.
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