The Washington Capitals made a splash July 1 on the first day of NHL free agency, addressing a deficiency by signing former Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik to a five-year, $27.5 million deal and shoring up their goaltending situation by adding former Carolina netminder Justin Peters to a two-year deal. In addition, they re-signed center Michael Latta to a two-year contract.
Orpik, who was selected by the Penguins during the first round of the 2000 draft, has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, where he ranks first among defensemen in franchise history in games played (703). During the 2013-14 season, Orpik played 72 games with 13 points (two goals, 11 assists), 143 blocked shots and 221 hits.
The signing marks new Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan's first major move, which certainly addresses one of the team's biggest issues from the 2013-14 season by bringing in a steady veteran to stabilize Washington's defense, which was a patchwork of ineffective players for most of the year.
"We are very excited to welcome Brooks to Washington," MacLellan said in a statement. "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."
Two-time Olympian Orpik is 33, and the length and cost of his contract certainly raised a few eyebrows from hockey observers, especially considering Orpik finished the 2013-14 season with a minus-3 rating. According to CapGeek.com, Orpik's $5.5 million cap hit would rank fourth on the team, behind Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.
The Orpik signing would also seem to knock the Caps out of the running for fellow Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, who is also reportedly looking for a lucrative, long-term deal. (UPDATE: The Capitals announced July 1 that they had signed Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract.)
The Orpik signing has to thrill new Washington assistant coach Todd Reirden, who worked with Orpik while in Pittsburgh and was lobbying for the Capitals to sign him on the eve of the free-agency period.
"He plays the toughest players every night, on a night-in, night-out basis," Reirden said of Orpik. "He has been a part of the top penalty-killing unit. He's been the best penalty killer the past three or four years I've been involved in Pittsburgh. He's won Stanley Cups, he's been a part of a good defensive team and his leadership will be a great fit."
MacLellan said during the offseason that the Capitals were looking for an experienced goalie to slot in the No. 2 position behind incumbent Braden Holtby, and they seem to have found their man in Peters, signing him to a two-year, $1.9 million deal.
Peters, 27, appeared in 21 games for the Hurricanes during the 2013-14 season, tallying a 7-9-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. During his career, he is 22-31-8 with three shutouts, a 3.05 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage during 68 NHL games. Peters was lodged behind Cam Ward in Carolina, and his solid play against Washington (4-3-0) likely helped make him an attractive backup.
"We feel he is just entering his prime and has a tremendous upside," MacLellan said in a statement. "We look forward to him working with our goaltending coach Mitch Korn to reach his potential."
Washington re-signed Latta for $1.15 million for two years, locking him up as he develops into an everyday player. Latta made his NHL debut during the 2013-14 season, earning four points during 17 games with Washington. During 52 games for Hershey of the AHL, Latta tallied 14 goals and 20 assists, with 134 penalty minutes.
Latta said on Twitter after the deal was announced:
that was quick, thanks for all the support from the fans. Pumped to be back in Washington. Rock the red.. Not bc it's canada day either— Michael Latta (@Latta17) July 1, 2014