Thursday, July 12, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik

“When I'm playing, I'm never through. It's unfinished. I like to find a place to leave for someone else to finish it. That's where the high comes in.”
-- Miles Davis

When the 2016-2017 season  ended, Brooks Orpik was not the oldest defenseman in the league, but he was at the head table.  Only six defensemen older than Orpik dressed last season.  Only three defensemen older than Orpik would dress for the 2017-2018 regular season that wrapped up in April.  Still, he dressed for 81 games. It was the first time in a 15-year career that he appeared in at least 80 regular season games.  No defensemen in the NHL older than 32 at season’s end (there were 13 in all) played in more, and only New Jersey’s Andy Greene played in as many.

One would be hard-pressed to think of 2017-2018 being one of Orpik’s best seasons, though, even as difficult as it is to evaluate a defensive defenseman’s numbers.   For the second consecutive season and third in four seasons in Washington, Orpik did not record a goal.  Not all that surprising, given that he never had more than two in any of his 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before coming to Washington, but he had no goals for the Penguins only three times in those 11 seasons, and one of them was in his first year in which he appeared in just six games.

His ten assists falls squarely in the middle of his annual production over 15 seasons, but it ties for the lowest he recorded in a season in which he appeared in at least 70 games (he had ten in 2007-2008 in 78 games in Pittsburgh).  And, after three seasons in Washington with ever-increasing plus-minus numbers (plus-5, plus-11, and plus-32), he had his first “minus” season as a Capital (minus-9).  He went from having the best plus-minus among Caps defensemen last season to having the worst this season (in fact, those best and worst are the best and worst for any Caps defenseman in the four years Orpik has been a Capital, and the plus-32 was the best for a Capital defenseman over the last eight seasons).

Then there was possession.  Orpik had a shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 of 44.21.  Only six of 200 defensemen dressing for 40 or more games had a worse percentage (numbers from  His SAT-for at 5-on-5 in tied games was second-worst in the league (41.52 percent).  It is not a neighborhood in which a defensive defenseman might wish to reside, even if he is getting only 16:14 of even strength ice time per game, 121st among that group of 200 defensemen.

Fearless’ Take… When Brooks Orpik was on his physical game, the Caps were on theirs.  In 26 games in which Orpik recorded four or more credited hits, the Caps were 19-5-2.  In 21 games in which he recorded one or no credited hits, the Caps were 11-7-3.  Extending the “grittership” theme, the Caps were 20-10-2 in the 32 games in which Orpik had at least three blocked shots, 6-5-2 in the 13 games in which he did not have one.  Orpik seems to thrive in the context of “old school” numbers a lot more than in the “new school” numbers.

Cheerless’ Take… It is one thing not to be an offensive threat.  It is another to be something of a non-contributor.  Only 14 times in the history of the franchise did a player finish a season with more games of no shots on goal than Brooks Orpik (42) and the most since Jeff Schultz had 46 such games in the 2010-2011 season.  The Caps were 25-13-4 in those games.  That they were 24-12-3 in the 39 games in which he did record at least one shot on goal makes one think it didn’t matter much.  Maybe it was the “grittership,” after all.

Odd Orpik Fact… Brooks Orpik has more goals in 149 career postseason games (three) than he had over his last two regular seasons with the Caps (none in 160 games).

Game to Remember… February 9th vs. Columbus

Defensive defensemen aren’t going to get a lot of headlines, and they aren’t often going to be named a star of the game.  It was no different for Brooks Orpik when the Caps faced the Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena in early February.  It was the back half of a home-and-home set against the Blue Jackets, who the Caps defeated three days earlier by a 3-2 margin on a last-minute goal in regulation by Nicklas Backstrom.  The rematch promised to feature a grumpy Columbus squad looking to even the score.

It was the sort of game made for a player like Orpik.  Neither it, nor Orpik disappointed.  The teams alternated goals over the first 21 minutes of the contest, but the Caps scored a pair of goals less than two minutes apart in the second period to take a 4-2 lead into the third period.  Braden Holtby stopped all 15 shots he faced in the third period, and the Caps held on to that 4-2 margin for the win.  As for Orpik, he did not record a shot attempt, but he had four credited hits and five blocked shots to go along with a plus-1 in 18:45 in ice time.  It was one of four games in the 2017-2018 season in which Orpik recorded at least four credited hits and four blocked shots.  He was the only Capital to record any such games this season.

Game to Forget… February 4th vs. Vegas

There might not have been another team in the NHL in the regular season that posed as stiff a challenge to the type of player Brooks Orpik is than the Vegas Golden Knights.  A fast, deep team intent on playing “quick hockey” against an older, traditional, stay-at-home, and (frankly) slower defenseman.  The differences between player and opponent were evident in an early-February game at Capital One Arena. 

The Caps managed to get a lead – three times, in fact – but could not shake the visitors loose.  Vegas tied the game three times, one last time mid-way through the third period on a Jonathan Marchessault goal for which Orpik was on the ice, and then they took their first, only, and last lead five minutes later on a goal by Alex Tuch in a 4-3 Vegas win.

Orpik skated 16:05 for the game, and other than his minus-1 and penalty (after which Vegas scored on the ensuing power play, their only man advantage of the game), he had a blank score sheet.  It was one of only four games all season that Orpik recorded neither a hit nor a blocked shot and the only one of those that the Caps lost.


Brooks Orpik came into the postseason with far more experience than his teammates,  125 games worth (by way of comparison, Alex Ovechkin had 97 games of experience going into the playoffs).  Perhaps as important, he was the only Capital having played in a Stanley Cup final (twice), let alone one who played on a team that won one (in 2009 with the Penguins).

Orpik did not post flashy numbers in the 2018 playoffs for the Caps.  For instance, his 16:49 in average ice time was the third-lowest in his 12 trips to the postseason. But the time was well spent, in an odd sort of way.  Here was Orpik, who endured a lot of negative commentary over the season for his on-ice performance, playing at least 16:06 in 13 of the Caps’ 24 post season games.  And the Caps did not lose one of them in regulation time.  After an overtime loss in Game 1 of the opening round to Columbus (he skated 19:39 in that one), the Caps won 12 in a row when he skated 16:06 or more, including Game 5 of the final against Vegas, in which he skated 18:00. 

It was in that game in which Orpik might have made his signature play of importance as a Capital, and oddly enough it was in the offensive end of the ice.  With Vegas approaching the mid-point of the third period with a 3-2 lead, Erik Haula tried to clear the puck up the boards out of his own end.   Orpik, stationed at the blue line, held the puck onside by the narrowest of margins, and then he sent it in the direction of the Vegas net.  Devante Smith-Pelly settled it off his skate, and as he was being tripped by Colin Miller in the slot, he curled a shot around the left pad of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game 9:52 into the period.  Less than three minutes later, Lars Eller put the Caps ahead, and the Caps had their series-ending, Cup-clinching margin of victory.

In the end…

Brook Orpik is in the autumn of his career.  It is uncertain as of this writing where he will be spending what might be the last seasons of his career after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche with goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche, who promptly bought out Orpik from the last year of his current contract.  He finished the season with the seventh-highest number of regular season games played by an active defenseman (982), and only Zdeno Chara among active defensemen had more postseason games played (159) than Orpik (149).

It is possible that he will return to the Caps, perhaps in a third-pair mentoring role, much as was his role in 2017-2018.  In that sense, his work might not yet be finished as a Capital.  He might, as Miles Davis put it, “find a place to leave for someone else to finish it.”  Or at least take up the challenge.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

So, What Happened on This Date?... July 12

We're getting to the end of the postseason reviews and edging toward the lazy days of hockey summer.  Not that every day in the summer over four-plus decades has been hammocks and hot dogs for the Washington Capitals.  Sometimes, they did some personnel adjustment.  From time to time (read: as we remember to do it), we'll take a look at what happened on this date in history.

July 12...

1995 – John Slaney was traded.

Darryl Sydor and Derian Hatcher.  Those were the two defensemen taken ahead of John Slaney, by the Washington Capitals, the ninth overall pick in the 2009 entry draft.  There would be 17 defensemen in that draft who would appear in more NHL games than Slaney did in the NHL.  Of the 268 NHL games he did play, only 63 of them came with the Caps.  He reached the NHL as a rookie in the 1993-1994 season, appearing in 47 games and going a very respectable 7-9-16, plus-3.  The 16 points was sixth-most among rookie defensemen that season; his seven goals tied Boris Mironov (whose brother, Dmitri, would play for the Caps, as we shall see shortly) for the league lead among that group.  He appeared in all 11 postseason games for the Caps, often matched against the Mario Lemieux line in the first round win in six games over the formidable champion Penguins and skating in all five games in the second round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the New York Rangers.

The following season was a frustrating one for hockey, the Caps, and Slaney.  That was the season in which the NHL delayed opening until January 1995 due to a labor-management dispute.  Slaney appeared in only 16 games for the Caps in the regular season, going 0-3-3, minus 3.  He did not dress for any of the games in the seven-game loss to the Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs.

After becoming something of a legend as an amateur in Canada, and after becoming a top-ten draft pick in the NHL, John Slaney never quite reached those heights again, and he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on this date in 1995 for a third-round pick in the 1996 draft.  That pick would become Shawn McNeill, who would never play a game in the NHL, but he did have a long career in minor league hockey in North America and Europe, eventually hanging up his skates after the 2014-2015 season with the Louisiana IceGators of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The odd thing about Slaney’s side of that trade was that he would be another six seasons before he would don a Flyers sweater in the NHL.  He was traded in December 1995 to Colorado without having played a game for Philadelphia.  His hockey journey took him to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Nashville, and Pittsburgh, before he landed back in Philadelphia in January 2001 in a trade from Pittsburgh for Kevin Stevens.  Slaney played in five regular season and one postseason game for the Flyers before his NHL career ended after the 2001-2002 season.  He went on to play another nine seasons in the AHL and in Europe.  Slaney remained in hockey, eventually serving as an assistant coach with the Arizona Coyotes.  He is currently an assistant with the Tucson Roadrunners in the AHL.

1998 – Dmitri Mironov was signed.

On June 16, 1998, the Detroit Red Wings completed their Stanley Cup final sweep of the Washington Capitals.  Defenseman Dmitri Mironov, obtained by the Red Wings from the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Jamie Pushor late in the season, looked on from the press box.  It was the 11th straight game he did not get a sweater in the postseason, not since May 17th in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of their second round matchup.  That matchup had a harrowing moment involving Mironov, who in Game 2 of that series fired a shot that hit Blues defenseman Chris Pronger in the chest, who took two steps and dropped to the ice.  Pronger was struck just to the left of his heart, causing it to lose rhythm, but he recovered and went on to play in the series

As for Mironov, not quite four weeks after his Red Wings swept the Caps in the Cup final, he was a Capital, signing a four-year/$11.5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent.  Mironov came to the Caps with considerable experience – seven years in the Soviet Union and another seven in the NHL with four different teams (Toronto and Pittsburgh in addition to Anaheim and Detroit).  Of course, that meant he had some miles on him, too.  He arrived in Washington as a 32-year old defenseman, the second-oldest defenseman to start on Opening Night of the 1998-1999 season against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. 

Mironov, like a lot of Capitals that season, missed a lot of games (a total of 14 defensemen would dress for the Caps, none of them playing in all 82 games). He appeared in only 46 games in that first season in Washington, going 2-14-16, minus-5, for a club that went 31-45-6 and missed the postseason entirely a year after going to the Cup final. 

The Caps and Mironov reached the postseason the following year, but after going 3-19-22, plus-7, in 73 games in the regular season, Mironov failed to record a point in four postseason games (he did not play in Game 1 of the opening round series against Pittsburgh that the Caps lost in five games).  The 200-2001 season would be Mironov’s last with Washington.  He appeared in only 36 regular season games with the Caps (3-5-8, minus-7), suffering a back injury that would keep him out of the last half of the 2000-2001 season and all of the following season.  For a former All Star Game participant (1998 with Anaheim), it was a disappointing end in a disappointing tenure for Dmitri Mironov in Washington.  He did not play in the NHL again.

1996 – Daniel Laperriere was signed.

Not every signing is a big one.  Sometimes, they get the small print in the team’s media guide.  Such was the case with Daniel Laperriere, a four-year veteran signed by the Caps on this date in 1996.  Laperriere was a fifth-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 1989 entry draft, taken just ahead of James Black.  Laperriere never dressed for the Caps, in fact never played in the NHL after being signed by the Caps.  He did play in the IHL, AHL, and in Europe from the time of that signing through the 1999-2000 season with the Schwenninger Wild Wings in Germany.

James Black would eventually play in 166 regular season games with the Caps from 1998-1999 through 2000-2001.

2006 – Richard Zednik was a Capital…again.

Rcihard Zednik was a 10th-round (when there was such a thing) pick, 249th overall, in the 1994 entry draft.  After playing another year in Europe, he joined the Caps as a rookie in the 1995-1996 season.  Well, for one game of it, the season finale against the Buffalo Sabres, a 3-2 Caps loss in which Zednik had a pristine score sheet.

By the time he was traded away late in the 2000-2001 season, Zednik established himself as something of a fan favorite, if a player who never quite filled the scorer’s role he seemed suited for.  That late season trade in 2001 was among the biggest and most controversial in Capitals history, even today.  As we wrote at the time…
“The Caps were pulling away in the Southeast Division race with a 37-20-10-2 record, 15 points ahead of Carolina in the division.  There was the question, though, whether the team was configured for a deep playoff run.  The Caps opted to add experience and pulled the trigger on a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, sending Zednik, another youngster, Jan Bulis, and a first round pick in the 2001 entry draft to Montreal for Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a second round pick int he2001 draft.

For the Caps, the trade simply did not work.  They stumbled to a 4-7-0-2 finish and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.“

If the trade did not work for the Capitals, it did seem to work for Zednik in Montreal.  In parts of five seasons with the Canadiens, he appeared in 322 games and scored 98 goals (his highest with any of the four franchise for which he would play) and posted 183 points (also a high for one club).  However, in 2006-2007 he slipped under 20 goals for the first time in five full seasons with the Habs and appeared in only 67 games, the first time in those four full seasons he played in fewer than 80 games. 

Following that season, he was traded back to the Caps, for a third-round draft pick (Olivier Fortier, taken with that pick by Montreal, never played in the NHL and was out of hockey after the 2012-2013 season after four seasons in the AHL).  Zednik lasted just 32 games with the Caps in his second tour with the club, traded to the New York Islanders in February 2007 for a second round pick in the 2007 draft.  That was perhaps a more consequential trade for the Caps than the one that sent Zednik to Montreal in 2001.  That second round pick became Theo Ruth, who would later be traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Sergei Federov.  Federov went on to become a Caps legend, if only for this moment, while Ruth never played NHL hockey and retired from the sport mid-way through the 2013-2014 season with the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL at the age of 24.

Zednik signed with the Florida Panthers, for whom he played two seasons and surviving one of the most dangerous moments a hockey player can face (warning: this is difficult to watch).  But he did return to the ice the following season, 2008-2009, which would be his last in the NHL.  Zednik went on to play two more seasons in Europe and represented Slovakia in the 2010 Olympic Games before retiring.

Only one player among the 286 players taken in that 1994 entry draft played in more NHL games than Richard Zednik.  Tomas Holmstrom, taken eight picks later by the Detroit Red Wings, played in 1,026 regular season games, all with the Wings, with whom he won four Stanley Cups, including one against the Caps in 1998.

2016 – Zach Sanford is signed.

Andre Burakovsky, Madison Bowey, Zach Sanford.  Those were the Washington Capitals’ first three picks of the 2013 entry draft, taken in the first, second, and second rounds, respectively.  Sanford paid a conventional volume of dues in his climb to the NHL.  After the 2013 draft he spent another year in amateur hockey (Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL).  Then there were two seasons with Boston College in the NCAA.

It was after that second season with the BC Eagles, on this date, that the Caps signed Sanford to a three-year, entry level contract paying him $875,000 a year in salary and another $50,000 a year in performance bonuses (numbers from   In the first year of that deal, Sanford split time over the first two thirds of the season between the Hershey Bears in the AHL and the Caps, for whom he appeared in 26 games, going 2-1-3, even. 

However, that 2016-2017 season was one in which the Caps loaded up for a Stanley Cup run, and the future, to a degree, was put on hold in service to the here and now.  Sanford was traded to the St. Louis Blues on February 27, 2017, along with forward Brad Malone, a first-round pick in the 2017 entry draft, and a conditional second round to as low as a seventh round pick in the 2019 draft, depending on the conditions met, for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (widely viewed as the prize of the trading deadline) and goaltender Pheonix Copley.

That first-round pick going to St. Louis acquired a life of its own.  St. Louis traded the pick to the Philadelphia Flyers along with Jori Lehtera and a conditional first round pick in 2017 or 2018 for Brayden Schenn.  As for Sanford, he played in 13 games for the Blues to wrap up the 2016-2017 season, going 2-3-5, plus-2.  However, in training camp to prepare for the 2017-2018 season, Sanford suffered a shoulder injury that wiped out his season. 

Oh, and in other July 12 highlights… The iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow was consecrated on this date in 1561… Alexander Hamilton died on this date in 1804, one day after being shot by Aaron Burr in a duel… the U.S. Congress authorized the “Medal of Honor” on this date in 1862… and the Rolling Stones had their first live performance on this date in 1962, at the Marquee Club in London.