After signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to big contracts on the first day of free agency last year, the Washington Capitals locked up their top two pairs on defense for the immediate future. Add in veteran Mike Green, the Capitals entered last season with one of the deepest defensive groupings in the Eastern Conference.
It also meant that defense would not necessarily be a priority come this offseason, and outside a lone depth signing – it hasn’t been.
After breaking down the forwards, here is a breakdown of how the Capitals defensive group looks like so far this offseason.
Capitals Post Free Agency Roster Breakdown: Defense
Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen
After coming over from divisional rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, both Orpik and Niskanen immediately made their presence known for their new team. Orpik did everything he always does to contribute that doesn’t involve putting himself on the score sheet. He led the team in hits (306), had the lowest offensive zone start time percentage at even strength (49.59%) and was second behind Carlson in blocked shots.
Niskanen chipped in the third highest offensive output in his career, but played great at even strength in his own end – allowing the lowest amount of goals-per-60-minutes played on the team (1.89, tied with Alzner).
Both Alzner and Carlson continued their progression as home-grown stars for the organization. Both former first round picks by the Capitals, Carlson recorded career high in points (12 G, 43 A – 55 PTS), as well as led all defensemen in time-on-ice, while Alzner was tied for being the stingiest to score on at even-strength.
Collectively, they make for one of the best top-four groupings, maybe not only in the East, but in the entire league.
The Capitals were hoping that their young Russian blue liner was going to be a fixture on the team’s bottom pairing last year along with Mike Green but wrist surgery, followed by subsequent complications forced Orlov to miss the entire season.
Entering the 2015 season, Washington once again hopes that the now 23 year old Orlov will take over as a member of the team’s bottom pairing. Just because he is set to be a fifth defender for the next few years, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the skill set to be more. In his three year career, Orlov has flashed a great two-way game – posting 31 points in 119 career games to go along with a career 2.08 GA/60 at even strength (would have been good for third behind Alzner and Niskanen last year).
Schmidt played in 39 games last year for the Capitals, posting a positive Corsi % (53.93), although he did so with the highest zone start time in the offensive zone among the returning Capitals (59%).
He will compete for playing time with Chorney, who is another ex-Penguin joining the Capitals’ organization. Chorney only played seven games in the regular season for Pittsburgh, but really took off when he was forced in an expanded role during the playoffs.
Chorney wasn’t on the ice for any of the New York Ranger’s even strength goals, and actually had a positive Corsi % in the series (54.17), again like Schmidt he did so with a favorable zone start %. He also averaged over two minutes of ice time while the Penguins were on the power play, potentially giving the Caps a secondary option on the team’s second man advantage unit.
Other potential candidates to fill out the bottom pairing include (with AHL stats),
Connor Carrick 73 GP 8 G 34 A 132 PIM
Mike Moore 41 GP 3 G 11 A
Christian Djoos GP A
Aaron Ness (with Bridgeport) 74 GP 8 G 37 A
Madison Bowey – No pro experience, team’s top defensive prospect
Expect the Capitals again to have one of the deepest defensive groups in the league, but how they replace the now departed Green will determine how strong the team’s overall depth will be or if they will have to become overly top four reliant.