The Washington Capitals have agreed to a five-year, $27.5-million deal with defenseman Brooks Orpik, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. The contract contains a limited no-trade clause, according to his agent Lewis Gross, meaning Orpik has the opportunity to submit a list of desired teams at the beginning of each season.
“We are very excited to welcome Brooks to Washington,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said in a release. “We feel Brooks’ leadership and experience will greatly enhance our defense for years to come. Brooks plays tough minutes against the opposition’s best players.”
Orpik’s salary cap hit last season was $3.75 million, so he received a significant raise in this deal. After the signing of goaltender Justin Peters to a two-year deal worth $950,000 per season, this leaves the Capitals with roughly $6.2 million left on the open market.
The 33-year-old, who will be 34 by the time the 2014-15 season begins in October, reunites in Washington with assistant coach Todd Reirden, who worked with the blue line in Pittsburgh before getting fired in the regime change this offseason. Orpik had visited the Capitals on Sunday and, according to Gross, was heavily weighing several offers alongside his wife, Erin. Gross declined to divulge exactly how many offers Orpik had, but said Reirden’s presence factored into the decision.
“I think he’s player that, looking at the Capitals present roster, I think he’d be a guy, left-hand shot, more of a stay-at-home guy that plays against the other team’s top players,” Reirden said of Orpik on Monday. “I think I pride myself in my ability to form relationships with the players where I can challenge them and continue to force them to improve. Brooks is a guy that, prior to us working together, started at just over 18 minutes and now is capped out at his average of 22 minutes and he plays the toughest players, night in and night out.
“He’s been a part of the top penalty-killing unit and he’s been the best penalty killer the past three years, four years that I’ve been involved in Pittsburgh. I think he brings that ability. I think a situation where he saw a lot of Ovechkin in our matchups, when we came into this building or Washington was playing us in Pittsburgh. It’s a guy that can handle that. His maturity, he’s won Stanley Cup, he’s been a part of good defensive team and his leadership I think would be a great fit for any team. I’d like it to be here as well.”
That said, the advanced metrics for Orpik, the longest-tenured defenseman Penguins history with 703 career games since 2002-03, show a player whose Corsi-for rate hasn’t cracked 47 percent over the past two seasons and struggled to produce even-strength shot attempts whenever he wasn’t paired with Paul Martin. He has served as the team’s alternate captain since 2008, but saw his ice time decline over the past three seasons from 22:33 to 22:17 to 21:12. He also suffered an injury during the playoffs this season. At the time, it was believed to be a right knee injury.
The Capitals had also been linked to Matt Niskanen, Orpik’s former teammate in Pittsburgh and another Reirden discipline. Niskanen is believed to be seeking a long-term deal, possibly around seven years. On Monday, Reirden said he would consider reaching out to both. Orpik also played on the United States’ Olympic team with current Washington defenseman John Carlson.
“Matt and I, and Brooks and I as well, are in constant contact,” Reirden said. “We formed relationships together, building a plan. My plan for Matt was much different than my plan for Brooks, which was much different than my plan for Olli Maata and Kris Letang. To me it’s about making those players better, challenging with ways to improve, whether that’s on-ice or off-ice details we can add to their game, and ultimately it makes your team much better defensively. I think the structure that Barry’s going to put in, and Lane are going to put into our team is going to allow us to play much better defensive hockey, then also turn that into offense the other way.
“Both those players are going to be great additions to any team. Certainly there’s not a whole lot of unrestricted defensemen out there, but I may have some contact with them.”