Some fans may not remember that Brooks Orpik became a Colorado Avalanche legend for three days shortly after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 with the Washington Capitals.
Orpik, however, would make his way back to the Caps just a little over a month later and start the 2018-19 season with a cap hit $4.5 million lower than the year before. The journey was so fishy and raised so many eyebrows across the league, Orpik had to meet with the NHL.
Orpik recently talked about that experience with Cam Janssen and St. Louis Blues reporter Andy Strickland on the Cam & Strick Podcast.
A summary of Orpik’s summer in 2018
“It’s funny because you hear a lot of people trying to guess what happened and a lot of people thought it was all set up to circumvent the cap,” Orpik started. “I had one year left on my deal and this was the Friday night of the draft and this was the bender we were all coming off of after we won it. Finally got into a few days where we could kind of tone it down and settle back into family life. I had no idea it was coming. It was the last thing on my mind. We were still enjoying what we had just accomplished.”
The Caps had taken home Lord Stanley in Las Vegas two weeks before dealing Oprik. It was a whirlwind for the rugged defenseman who was so oblivious to the trade that he ignored the phone call that was trying to notify him of it.
“I remember getting a call, I was in my daughter’s room at like 6:15 maybe, and I get a call on my phone and it’s a number I don’t recognize,” Orpik said. “It says Colorado so I just ignore it. I’m reading to her before bed. Get another call from the same number and my wife’s like, ‘Who is calling you?’, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, it’s a Colorado number.’ She’s like, ‘Well, you should probably pick it up. Maybe it’s important.’ So, I pick it up and it’s Joe Sakic and Joe says, ‘Hey, Brooks, it’s Joe.’ I say, ‘Joe, who?’ and he says ‘Sakic’ and I’m like okay that’s kinda weird. So, now I’m like something is up. He goes, ‘I’m sure you know what happened already,’ and I’m like ‘No,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, we just traded for you. It’s for you, Philipp Grubauer’, and told me what the thing was. He said, ‘But, we’re going to try to move you.'”
The primary reason Orpik was sent out of town was salary-cap related. The two-time Stanley Cup champion was headed into the final year of his five-year, $5.5 million AAV contract and the Caps needed space to re-sign star blueliner John Carlson to an eight-year, $64 million deal.
Orpik, who is now a member of the Capitals’ player development staff, was complimentary of what Sakic did for him next. At first, the Avs were set on trying to trade him but Orpik’s family had some extenuating circumstances that would have made that sort of move tough to handle. Sakic did his best to suit their needs.
“Joe was great,” Orpik said. “I actually got to meet him in person a couple years ago and thank him for what he did for me. He asked me for a couple teams that I would go to trade-wise and this put me on the spot, caught me off guard. I had no idea it was coming. … At my age, obviously, this is what they were gonna do. Anyone would have done the same thing. So, that happened and I went back to Joe and we kinda had like a family situation going on health-wise and I said, ‘Hey, this is the situation my family is in. I really don’t know. You got a job to do, just do what you got to do. I appreciate you trying to help me out but just do what you gotta do.’
“I talked to my agent and then Joe came back and said, ‘Hey, have you given it any more thought?’ and I said ‘I don’t know if you guys would consider but is there any way you guys could do a buyout?’ [Sakic] said, ‘I don’t know, that’s my owner’s decision, not mine. I doubt it but I can certainly ask.’ He wound up coming back, I don’t know if it was that night or maybe the next day, and told me, ‘Yea, we’ll do the buyout.’ Which really, there was zero benefit to them. I think it was more Joe understanding the situation my family was in and he was gracious enough to do it.”
The Avs were just coming off their first playoff appearance after missing the postseason completely the previous three seasons and were well on their way to building the team that took home their own Stanley Cup in 2022. They were not a club just starting a rebuild that could take on some dead salary just to acquire other assets.
After completing the buyout, Colorado took on a dead cap hit of $2.5 million for the 2018-19 season and then $1.5 million for the 2019-20 season. At the time it was thought that a return to the Caps for Orpik was already set in stone but it turns out that wasn’t initially the case.
“It was probably two, three weeks I started talking to some other teams,” Orpik said. “Because of that same situation that we were in we thought it would be best to stay in Washington. I just didn’t know if it was possible because they really had no cap space. It took a little bit longer. I still didn’t know if it was going to happen and then we finally [came to an agreement] and that was that. It was something.”
The league looked into the series of transactions, even bringing in members of the Capitals’ front office for interviews to make sure there was no wrongdoing or purposeful cap circumvention.
“I know just reading stuff people think that other teams can do similar stuff,” Orpik said. “I actually had to go meet with the league and do a deposition just to make sure there was nothing pre-arranged in terms of the buyout and then re-signing there. It wasn’t, like I said, I was caught off guard and initially really upset about the trade but completely understood it.”
The NHL has come down hard on teams in the past when they believe those sorts of activities are occurring. Back in 2010, the New Jersey Devils were forced to surrender $3 million, a third-round draft choice in the 2011 draft, and one future first-round draft pick within the next four seasons after the contract they tried to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to was deemed cap circumvention.
“It was definitely a unique situation but I think it worked out for everybody in the end,” Orpik said.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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