Brooks Orpik has taken the scenic route, but when the 2018-19 campaign rolls around, the 37-year-old rearguard affectionately known as ‘Batya’ will be back with the Washington Capitals.
It’s been quite the off-season for Orpik, who celebrated his second Stanley Cup victory this past season after chipping in one goal and five points in 24 games with the Capitals. As the draft approached, rumors swirled about the veteran’s future in Washington given his sizeable cap hit and increasingly limited role, and the chatter came to a head when Orpik was packaged with goaltender Philipp Grubauer and traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick on June 22. Two days later, Colorado bought out the remaining season of Orpik’s contract, rendering him an unrestricted free agent, but his off-season journey came full circle when he inked a one-year, $1-million contract with the Capitals on Tuesday.
On paper, returning to Washington on a one-year pact sees Orpik take a hefty pay cut. We’re talking $3-million hefty, too. Orpik’s contract that was shipped to and subsequently bought out by Colorado had one year remaining at a $5.5-million cap hit with $4.5 million to be paid out in salary next season. The new contract carries a matching $1-million cap hit and salary, but includes $500,000 in what could prove to be easily achievable bonuses. Orpik can earn $250,000 for playing 20 games and another $250,000 if he eclipses 40 games, according to CapFriendly.
Orpik should thank his agent and accountant for the way this whole situation has shaken out, too, while also taking solace in the fact he might not lose so much as a cent in overall salary despite his new deal carrying a substantially lower cap hit. The buyout from Colorado will pay Orpik $1.5 million this coming campaign and another $1.5 million next summer. Add in the potential to earn $1.5 million in Washington if he meets both bonuses and some grade-school math gives us a total of $4.5 million in earnings for Orpik. Sure, the money is spread over two campaigns instead of one, but this is about the best possible outcome for which the veteran blueliner could have asked.
Orpik’s signing has raised more than a few eyebrows, though, with some calling it a cap-circumventing deal that has essentially allowed the Capitals to retain the defenseman’s services from one season to the next while saving at $4.5 million against the cap for the upcoming season. And while there are rules against a team buying out and subsequently re-signing that player within a one-year period, Orpik’s deal technically doesn’t fall into that category as it was the Avalanche who exercised the buyout option.
That said, Orpik’s new pact in Washington has drawn comparisons to a swap the league swatted down in June 2013. At the time, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported the Maple Leafs and Lightning had a deal in place that would have sent Vincent Lecavalier to Toronto along with another asset or multiple assets under the condition that the then-33-year-old would be bought out using a compliance buyout, a cap hit-free buyout tool the league had temporarily put in place following the 2012-13 lockout. Tampa Bay would have then re-signed Lecavalier to a more team-friendly contract. The trade was vetoed by the league on the grounds that it was cap circumvention.
Orpik’s situation differs from that of Lecavalier, though. First, there was no compliance buyout option for Orpik, meaning Colorado is stuck with the $1.5 million cap hit in each of the next two seasons. In Lecavalier’s case, there was no buyout penalty, per se, for Toronto. The money paid out to Lecavalier by way of a compliance buyout would have been a drop in the bucket to a cash-rich Maple Leafs team without impacting their spending power under the cap in the slightest. The Avalanche, on the other hand, will have to deal with the dead cap space that resulted from Orpik’s buyout, even if it may be a non-issue for a franchise more than $14 million below the spending limit. Additionally, there appeared to be no pre-determined agreement that Orpik would be bought out and immediately return to Washington. Early reports following the trade were that Colorado was looking to trade Orpik, while a buyout was considered a secondary option. It’s also worth mentioning that it has taken upwards of one month for pen to hit paper on a new deal for Orpik, even if it all signs pointed to the veteran wanting to return.
But circumvention argument aside, the Capitals and Orpik both come out winners. Orpik, as noted, stands to lose nothing as a result of his movement-filled off-season. Meanwhile, his bottom-pairing place on the blueline — he was fourth in average ice time during the regular season but fifth in the post-season — will be far more reasonable for Washington at a $1-million cap hit. Having him locked in at $1 million also makes it much easier to justify pulling him out of the lineup in favor of up-and-comers Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, who inked a two-year, $2-million deal as a restricted free agent this summer. And no matter the feeling surrounding the deal, he’ll be returning to his not-so-old stomping grounds with a wage that more accurately reflects his value to the back end.
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