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Trotz believes Orpik fills a need for Capitals

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals' signing of defenseman Brooks Orpik on July 1 was arguably met with the most skepticism.

The Capitals gave Orpik, who turns 34 on Sept. 26, a five-year contract worth $27.5 million. It was a significant raise from the $3.75 million he earned annually throughout the duration of his latest contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Why am I worth that? That's probably a better question for the people who give out the contracts," Orpik said during his introductory teleconference. "I think my body of work speaks for itself."

Last week, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan explained that the steadying presence that Orpik has been known to provide defensively was Washington's "greatest need."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz echoed MacLellan's assertion following the first day of Washington's prospect development camp Monday.

"I know that [MacLellan's] taken some heat on that," Trotz said. "The things that Brooks Orpik does, you can't put a value on.

"One of the things that's been common, there hasn't been a physical, net-front type of defenseman [in Washington]. Who does Alexander Ovechkin play? He's one of the strongest, most dangerous players in the League and he plays against Brooks Orpik all the time. We need those players."

The Capitals' defensive corps, which rotated through an NHL-high 14 players last season, was often a source of derision and they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven years.

News of Orpik's arrival in Washington garnered similar reactions as his dwindling ice time and poor possession numbers in recent seasons led many to believe that he would never perform up to his contract.

"The hockey people have given me real positive messages. [The media hasn't] given me real positive messages," Trotz joked.

"I listen to some of the stuff. Everybody has their opinion. They can have their opinion. It really doesn't matter. It's what we need."

Trotz was quick to praise Orpik for his intangibles, which factored just as heavily into the Capitals' decision to sign him.

"Brooks is also, I think, a great role model for a team that's really young," he said. "We’re not an old team. We're probably in that window of just entering [the] prime of their careers and so he's a really good complement and a role model, and he's a piece that we don't have.

"To me it's a commitment of ownership and the team saying, 'You know what? We're in a good window here. Let's get the players that we want instead of the players that we've got to settle for and get him because he can have an effect.' The effect is not going to be in goals and assists. It's going to be in culture and winning and attitude, and that's what Brooks Orpik does."

Including Orpik and fellow free-agent signee Matt Niskanen (who signed a seven-year, $40.25 million contract on the same day), the Capitals boast a much more experienced stable of defensemen, one that also features John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green.

With his strong defensive reputation cultivated during 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz is intrigued by the pairings he could deploy next season.

"I got a lot of messages from my counterparts going, now we've got five really good defensemen, and you can do a lot of things, especially with that group, on the back end," Trotz said. "When you connect it with those forwards, you put yourself in a pretty good position."

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