The contract handed from the Washington Capitals to defenseman Brooks Orpik last Tuesday has elicited no shortage of outside opinions, ranging from those grounded in advanced metrics to quick, day-of from television analysts.
The money ($27.5 million) raised plenty of eyebrows. So did the contract’s length (five years). But inside the organization, General Manager Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz have stood firm on their opinion that Orpik patches a blue-line hole for the Capitals, lauding the veteran’s intangibles for support.
“I know that Mac’s taken some heat on that,” Trotz said. “One of the things you get, and it’s most common, everybody looks at the points and says Brooks Orpik doesn’t have great points, so why are you paying him that? The things that Brooks Orpik does, you can’t put a value on.”
The knock on Orpik has focused more on a below-average Corsi-for, a recent history of day-to-day injuries and how advanced stats show that, as colleague Neil Greenberg wrote, “Orpik could be considered a liability in his own end.” But until the season begins and the true value of Orpik’s signing with the Capitals can be judged, this disconnect will persist between those convinced that the Capitals overpaid and those like Trotz insistent that Orpik brings an immeasurable value.
“To me, it’s a commitment of ownership and the team saying, you know what, we’re in a good window here, let’s get the players that we want, not the players that we have to settle for, and get him because he can have an effect,” Trotz said. “And the effect is going to be in goals and assists. It’s going to be in culture and winning and attitude. And that’s what Brooks Orpik does. I listen to some of the stuff. Everybody has their opinion. They can have their opinion. It really doesn’t matter. It’s what we need, what we feel they need.”
At this point, Trotz turned to Matt Niskanen, the other former Penguins defenseman signed by Washington for more than $5 million per season. The initial question asked whether Trotz liked bringing those unrestricted free agents aboard, and he hoped Niskanen’s offensive abilities could bring a “five-man attack” to the Capitals, instead of heaping the burden onto the forwards.
Before long, though, the conversation turned back to Orpik.
“It was funny,” he said. “The hockey people, I get a lot of texts from hockey people. Hockey people don’t care about what a guy makes. They care about what he would do for your hockey club. I got a lot of messages from my counterparts going, now we’ve got five really good defensemen, and you can do a lot of things, especially with that group, on the back end. When you connect it with those forwards, you put yourself in a pretty good position.
“The hockey people have given me real positive messages,” Trotz continued, still in a jovial manner. “You guys [the media] haven’t given me real positive messages. So I don’t know if that means you might be right, all my friends might be wrong in the hockey world. But anyways, we’ll have to wait and see. I think he’s going to be a real good add for us … I think Mac went out and addressed real needs without giving up anything in terms of assets. As a general manager, I know that assets are valuable. You want to have lots of those so you can continue to improve the hockey club when the right deal comes around or what have you.”