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Brooks Orpik was a bad signing for the Capitals and here’s why

Brooks Orpik was signed to a five-year, $27.5 million contract on the first day of free agency and the first impressions are, well, not optimistic.

Orpik is 33 years old, and the deal will still be paying him on his 38th birthday. There aren’t too many defensemen that play more than 40 games after the age of 35.

And there is probably even fewer with the injury history Orpik has had:

Some would also say he has lost a step.

And then there are the fancy stats. New General Manager Brian MacLellan spoke about Orpik’s advanced metrics when asked if it helped justify the contract amount and term.

He gets put in defensive situations a lot. He starts in the defensive zone. He doesn’t get offensive zone starts. I don’t view him as a guy who carries the puck a lot. He’s a defensive defenseman. He’s a shot-blocker, he hits, he’s strong in front of the net, he clears the crease. He does all those intangible things, plus the leadership side, plus he makes the guy beside him better too. I don’t necessarily value the Corsi number on him. I think if you got him with a real good puck-mover I think in a certain environment he’s going to score high on the Corsi. I don’t think we emphasize Corsi on him.

During even-strength last season, Orpik started 14.5 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone and 24.5 percent in the defensive zone. And while that makes him a “defensive defenseman” by definition, Orpik could be considered a liability in his own end.

On those 2013-14 shifts were he took a draw in the defensive zone the Penguins were outshot (all shot attempts, including blocked) by a whopping 135 to 336. That’s a woeful 28.7 percent of shots in their favor. If we look at just unblocked attempts that bumps up to 30.3 percent, lower than perceived defensive liability Alex Ovechkin (32.7 percent) in those same circumstances. So either Ovechkin is much better defensively than anyone gave him credit for (and Mike Milbury owes him an apology) or Orpik is way worse than advertised.

And I wouldn’t exactly call this “strong in front of the net” last season.

We see a similar story when Orpik was on the penalty kill, where he skated almost three minutes a night.

I would expect a crease-clearing defenseman to limit the amount of damage done in front of the net, and Orpik appears to do the opposite.

He also doesn’t seem to make his defensive pairing better. Among those sharing at least 100 even-strength minutes over the past few seasons, only Robert Bortuzzo has seen any meaningful bump in terms of shot attempts going in the team’s favor when he shares the ice with Orpik.

Some of that could be chalked up to the level of competition faced. Orpik did line up against tough opposition and when a defensive partner is skating as another pair it is likely they are also skating against softer competition. However, Orpik didn’t excel against much but third-line forwards.

Of particular note is how Orpik has done with Kris Letang, who has the same offensive bent to his game as Mike Green does, and a likely running mate for Orpik. When Orpik and Letang shared the ice at even strength, the team scored 0.89 goals per 20 minutes and allowed 0.814. When Letang skated without Orpik, those numbers improved to 1.0 and 0.77, respectively. In other words, over a sample size of seven years and more than 2,500 minutes shared, a real good puck-moving defenseman improved on both sides of the ice when Orpik was not his dance partner.

One thing Orpik does bring to the table is grit. In 703 NHL games he has racked up 734 penalty minutes, so he isn’t afraid to muck it up with the opposition. However, he took five more penalties than he drew last season, and with the Capitals penalty kill middle-of-the-pack in terms of efficiency, it might be best if he isn’t so wily-nilly with taking penalties.

Plus, Brooks Orpik is not exactly a fan of Alex Ovechkin and his game. So right away, as if the chemistry with a new coach and front office isn’t enough to manage, the organization brings in a guy who thinks their captain “could get a charging penalty every time he hits.”

With Anton Stralman (five years, $22.5 million), Dan Boyle (two years, $9 million) and bargain Mark Fayne (four years, $14 million) all getting less in free agency, you have to wonder exactly how much damage tying up this much salary cap space will do to Washington’s chances at a championship run.