The Washington Capitals announced Tuesday that free agent defenseman Brooks Orpik will return to the team on a one-year contract that carries a salary cap hit of $1 million. The move ensures the Capitals will return all six defensemen who played for them in the Stanley Cup finals as they claimed the franchise’s first championship, a group that also includes Michal Kempny and John Carlson, each of whom re-signed earlier this offseason.
The Capitals had traded Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche, along with goaltender Philipp Grubauer, at the NHL draft to clear Orpik’s $5.5 million salary cap hit from their books, in part to find money to keep Kempny and Carlson. The Avalanche elected to buy out the 37-year-old’s deal, making him a free agent.
“Brooks has been a valuable player and a great mentor for our young players, and we are thrilled to bring him back to our organization,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “We feel his leadership and competitiveness on and off the ice will be welcomed back to our group.”
Orpik drew criticism as his contract neared its final season, largely because of his lack of speed in a league that increasingly prioritizes the trait. That criticism was amplified given a salary cap hit that made him Washington’s seventh-highest-paid player in terms of annual average value last season. The Capitals’ players, coaches and executives all lauded Orpik’s leadership and attitude, citing it as a key factor in their recent success.
The one-year term and $1 million price tag — which could include another $500,000 in performance bonuses — is a far more team-friendly deal, and Orpik again will provide leadership for a roster that figures to incorporate more young players in the coming season. His presence also will make it tougher for some of the team’s defensive prospects — such as Madison Bowey, recently re-signed on a two-year deal, and 2016 first-round draft pick Lucas Johansen — to crack Washington’s lineup.
The team has been successful in keeping most of its championship roster in place, save Grubauer and fourth-line center Jay Beagle, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks. After the Orpik signing, the Capitals have roughly $7 million in salary cap space to work with as they attempt to finalize a new contract with winger Tom Wilson, a restricted free agent.
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