At age 36, Brooks Orpik probably just played the best season of his career (or, at least, the most successful.) But it might also have been his last in DC.
|17:47||time on ice per game|
|54.3||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|65.1||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the 2016-17 season. A short description of each chart:
Brooks Orpik had the fifth best plus-minus in the NHL this season, and if you think I’m being ironic by opening this analysis up with that fact, you’re going to be disappointed.
There’s just no decent way to dump on a player who, ten years past his peak, helped his team outscore opponents 53 to 29 during even strength. That was the highest goal ratio of Orpik’s career, and though it outpaced his shot metrics, those numbers were also about the best in his career.
Orpik’s strong even-strength work was predicated on a deliberate game pace that matched his abilities. Opponents took just 50.3 shot attempts and got 7 scoring chances per hour against Orpik – numbers that humble every other Caps defenseman except Schmidt. In the past Orpik’s crease-clearing talent had mostly been myth, but opponents really didn’t get to the crease much against him this time. And though Orpik has never been a speedy skater, his conditioning and durability has kept him playable far past what would have been reasonable.
In the interest of context, teammates and deployments were very favorable to Orpik. He got to spend a lot of time with one of the most under-appreciated defensemen the in whole league and one of the most under-appreciated third lines in the whole league. When Orpik was not with Schmidt or Shattenkirk, he got wrecked (46.2 percent of shot attempts, including a curious 45.2 percent when with Orlov for 126 minutes that I think suggests genuine chemistry with his most common partners).
We’re now three years into the Orpik experiment, and I can’t honestly say it’s been the disaster I feared. Whatever the Caps have foregone as a result of Orpik’s generous $5.5 million annual paycheck has mostly been opportunity cost: those dollars and those minutes could certainly have gone to a better value, but that’s just hypothetical. In the actual world, we’ve got three seasons of demonstrable success in which Orpik has been securely in the black in both shots and goals – while remaining a vital part of a Washington defensive corps that has never been better.
Put another way: while Orpik’s problems are apparent through with-or-without-you analysis, his on-ice results are undeniable.
But there’s a real chance that the Caps would be even better going forward without him. The team desperately needs to get younger and shed pricey UFA contracts – and Orpik’s is by far the worst of the bunch ($5.5 million for two more years). Orpik hasn’t played 20-plus minutes a night since his first year in DC, and he’ll definitely get sheltered third pair minutes next season. With the fresh, searing memory of a playoffs in which Orpik’s speed actually did hurt the Caps (2 goals for, 8 goals against), the team may be motivated to make a move to lighten the load – especially if they want to re-sign TJ Oshie.
Could that spell the end for the most controversial Caps player in our site’s history? That would be a perverse way to go out – on the heels of a year that any player would and should feel darn proud of while he takes a celebratory sip of his kale smoothie.
How do his great teammates temper, if at all, the success Orpik had this season? And what weight, if any, do we place upon how well those teammates might have done had they not been saddled with Orpik?
But, more urgently: what happens next for Orpik? Trade? Buyout? Expansion draft (yeah right)? Or another season in Caps red? And would you really mind if it’s the latter?
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen
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