Before the Capitals considered a backup goaltender for Braden Holtby … Before they thought about how they would fill the void left by the departure of Mikhail Grabovski …
Before they even considered throwing a suitcase of money at Matt Niskanen …
They had Brooks Orpik in their crosshairs.
“The total dollars were centered around Brooks,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We needed to get him in first because we thought that was our greatest need.”
It came at a cost, of course. Orpik, who will turn 34 on Sept. 26, landed a five-year contract that pays him $6.5 million next season, $5.5 million the three seasons after that, and $4.5 million in 2018-19 when he’s turning 38.
“We tried to get him to stay as low as possible and we struggled with that fifth year for a while,” MacLellan said. “And then we felt we had to go there because it was getting so competitive to get him.”
Before signing with the Capitals, Orpik was the longest-tenured defenseman in Penguins history with 703 games in parts of 11 seasons. During that time he carved a reputation as one of the NHL’s hardest hitters and best shut-down defensemen, racking up 1,357 hits in the six seasons the NHL has been keeping that stat.
But he’s also been remarkably durable in his career, never playing fewer than 63 games and missing an average of eight games a season over his 10 seasons as a regular.
Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden spent four seasons working with Orpik as an assistant coach with the Penguins and said that anyone who sees the way Orpik trains in the offseason knows he is capable of playing hard minutes well into his late 30s.
"I think my body of work speaks for itself,” Orpik said. “The age for me isn’t really a huge factor. I think if you talk to anyone that’s played with me they know how well I take care of myself, nutrition-wise and diet-wise.
“Whether you’re 22 or 33, any time you give out a long contract there’s always some type of risk with injury.
“In terms of the dollar value, that’s just something that evolved. Every year the caps goes up with the way the league is growing. No matter who you are someone’s going to think you’re overpaid or underpaid or you got just what you wanted.
“Obviously, they like what you’ve done in the past. Whatever that number is you should come in and keep doing what you’re doing. You shouldn’t put pressure on yourself just because it’s a new contract. There’s a reason they gave it to you and you remind yourself of that and just keep doing what you’re doing. Whether you’re 22 or 38 you’ve always got something to learn.”
Orpik touched on a few other topics during his conference call with reporters, among them:
On his visit to Washington on Sunday, when he met with Caps owner Ted Leonsis, general manager Brian MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz:
The whole situation just felt right. It’s a group, obviously, that for the last couple years people think has underachieved. But I played against that group enough that I know what the potential is for that group and how hard it can be to play them.
When I met with Barry and saw what his plan and his vision was it was kind of a no-brainer for me, to be honest.
I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve won a Stanley Cup already, but that was probably the biggest factor, knowing there’s a real strong hunger in this group and they’re not far away from winning. They just need a little direction and I think Barry and some of the people he brought in will definitely provide that.
On reuniting with Niskanen as teammates in Washington:
I was really excited to find out. I know my wife [Erin] and his wife, Katie were really excited. I’ve never played for another team before, so I don’t know what it’s like to change teams.
I did a lot of research on what type of people are in the locker room in Washington and got nothing but good feedback from the people I talked to. When you go through a big change like this it’s always nice to have someone with you making that big jump.
On joining forces with Alex Ovechkin after years of defending him:
It’ll be a little different. I think we’ll both be happy about it because we tend to be on each other pretty good. This might be the best thing for both of us. It’s funny, I actually got to know him pretty well at the Olympics. We actually had to do drug testing after the U.S.-Russia game, so we got to spend a good couple hours together. He’s not too fun to go up against, whether it’s practice or games, and I’ve had the opportunity to go up against guys like [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby every day. Alex has done enough damage against us, so it’ll be nice to have him on our side.
On his time in Pittsburgh:
I was drafted in 2000 and we went through some lean years. The whole landscape of the league changed [in 2005] with salary cap and created a lot more parity. Our down years led to great draft picks in Sid [Crosby], Geno [Malkin] and [Marc-Anfre] Fleury. Those are the more memorable years, building that team up and making the playoffs eight years in a row.
I look back and I don’t really have any regrets or any negative reflections. There are so many good people I got to play with and meet, both through hockey and living there. I look back as the last few years with the group we had we probably should have done better than we did and that’s disappointing. But the thing that sticks out to me are the friendships and relationships I developed there.
On the thought of returning to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins on Dec. 27:
It’ll definitely be a new challenge for me, a new emotion for me. It actually might help me a little bit because there’s been a lot of changeover [in [Pittsburgh] which will probably make it a little bit easier for me. I’ve got a lot of good friends there that I’ll remain friends with. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.