Caps set their sights on free-agent defensemen

Caps set their sights on free-agent defensemen
June 30, 2014, 6:15 am
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(Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

When Barry Trotz interviewed Todd Reirden about becoming the Capitals’ defensive coach, he said “there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted Todd to join our staff.”

Trotz said he wanted to add someone he had not worked with in the past and Reirden had spent the previous four seasons working under Dan Bylsma with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But there may be an unintentional benefit that comes with Reirden’s hiring. He has a close working relationship with a pair of Penguins defensemen who are set to become unrestricted free agents on Tuesday – Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.

It’s no secret the Capitals are looking to add two defensemen to their blue line and landing Niskanen and Orpik would be a grand slam for general manager Brian MacLellan. The Caps might also have interest in 32-year-old defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out by the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend.

“I think the first phase of making our team better is getting a staff in place right before the draft,” Trotz said. “Now, when you talk to a free agent he knows what the staff is. I think that’s really important.

“We’ve got the staff, we’ve got the facilities, we’ve got a lot of good pieces on our hockey team, so we have a lot of good selling points.”

Reirden’s relationship with Niskanen and Orpik would certainly help the Capitals’ pursuit of both blue liners, but so would the Caps’ ability to overspend because that’s what NHL teams do every July 1.

Niskanen, a right-handed shot, is coming off a career-high 10 goals and 36 assists last season and his timing could not have been better. At 27 he is a UFA for the first time in his career and he is believed to be seeking a minimum of five years at more than $5 million a season. The Minnesota Wild are believed to be one of several teams interested in landing the Virginia, Minn., native.

Orpik, 33, has played 10 seasons in Pittsburgh and is coming off a season in which he recorded two goals and 11 assists and was a minus player [minus-3] for the first time in eight seasons. He made $3.75 million in each of his last six seasons in Pittsburgh and likely will be seeking a similar amount for another three seasons. 

If the Capitals are unable to land a quality defenseman in free agency, Trotz indicated they could look at trade options.

“The great thing about Washington is [we’ve] got lots of different assets in terms of forwards where some teams might be looking for some scoring and we can do something there,” he said, “but that’s really up to Mac [MacLellan].”