Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden has been on the job five days and already he’s campaigning for Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to shed their Penguins’ black and gold for Capitals’ red.
After all, he did.
With NHL free agency set to begin at noon on Tuesday, Reirden said he fully intends to use the relationships he forged with Orpik and Niskanen while he was an assistant coach in Pittsburgh to try to convince them to join the Capitals.
“Both of those players are going to be great additions to any team and certainly there are not a whole lot of unrestricted defensemen out there,” Reirden said with a wry smile, “but I may have some contact with them.”
Orpik, 33, has played his entire 703-game NHL career with the Penguins and last year was fifth on the team in minutes played [21:11], just behind Niskanen [21:17]. Orpik led all Penguins defensemen in short-handed ice time [212:03] and was second on the team in hits with 221, which would have led the Capitals last season, 11 more than Troy Brouwer’s 210.
“And he plays the toughest players, night in and night out,” Reirden said. “He’s been a part of the best penalty killing unit and he’s been the best penalty killer in the four years I’ve been involved in Pittsburgh.
“He’s a guy who can handle that. He has maturity. He’s won a Stanley Cup. His leadership, I think, would be a great fit with any team and I’d like it to be here as well.”
Orpik, a left-handed shooter who could be paired with Mike Green, earned $3.75 million last season and is likely seeking a contract of three or more years at similar numbers.
Niskanen, 27, is probably the most attractive defenseman on the free-agent market, which is why some reports have him seeking a seven-year deal worth more than $5 million a season, a big raise over the $2.3 million he earned in Pittsburgh last season.
Acquired by the Penguins from the Dallas Stars in the deal that also yielded James Neal in exchange for defenseman Alex Goligoski, Niskanen posted career-highs in games , goals , points , plus-minus [plus-33], game-winning goals [six] and shots . He also finished with the best Corsi-for rating among all Penguins defensemen [53.4].
“Matt had gone through a couple tough years in Dallas,” Reirden said. “We came up with a plan when he first walked into my office about how to rebuild his game and get it back to where it was two years ago.
“He really stepped up and his ability to work with 19-year-old Olli Matta showed a lot of his leadership and his ability to help young players. I think that’s something he added to his resume.”
A right-handed shot, Niskanen would give the Caps the depth on the back end they have been lacking for several seasons.
But Orpik and Niskanen are not the only defensive options for the Caps, who have roughly $12.7 million in cap space now that the NHL salary cap has increased to $69 million.
Dan Boyle, 37, is also on the list of UFAs, as well as recent buyouts Christian Ehrhoff, 31, Shane O’Brien, 30, Anton Volchenkov, 32, and Ed Jovanovski, 38.
Reirden made it clear he will push hard to get Niskanen and Orpik to sign with the Capitals when the window opens at noon on Tuesday.
“Matt and Brooks and I are in constant contact,” he said. “We built a relationship together by building a plan for them.”