Grit. Toughness. Mettle. These are the kinds of qualities that are often assigned to hockey players whose on-ice contributions are perhaps less, um, measurably obvious.
That was the exact introduction we used four years ago, queuing up a shredding of John Erskine’s performance on the blueline in what ended up being his final year in the NHL. That year, Big John was the worst defenseman on a team that had few defensive merits to boast.
And now we’re going to use the nadir of Erskine’s decline as a benchmark to illuminate the gravity of another gritty, tough Caps’ blueliner’s performance dropoff.
Let’s just get down to it. Brooks Orpik in 2017-18 might be a greater net-negative to the team than John Erskine was in 2013-14, when, again, he was one of the worst defenseman in the League.
Let’s start with the possession metrics, which show that Orpik has been on the ice for a greater share of opponent shot attempts than John Erskine was:
Now in a vacuum this isn’t necessarily meaningful, as a team’s possession efficacy can change a lot over the course of four years; as it turns out, however, the ‘13-14 squad’s 47.7 CF% (24th in the NHL), and this year’s 47.9 CF% (23rd in the NHL) index very similarly. Even accounting for the small improvement from this year’s squad, it doesn’t look good for 44.
Alright, but possession metrics aren’t the end of the line, right? Goals matter.
Oh, Orpik’s goal share is worse this year than it was for Erskine during the year that ultimately led to his departure from the League? Well, surely their deployment was different. Orpik has faced stiffer competition!
...yes, but he’s also generally been deployed with more skilled forwards.
Okay, but this seems like a pretty selective comparison. If we increased the sample size, and didn’t just compare to this single year from one contemporary’s career, we’d get a better picture of the story.
True, true. Behold: 2017-18 Brooks Orpik vs literally every Caps’ defenseman since 2007 who has played more than 500 5v5 minutes in a single season.
Brooks’ season is represented by the red point.
Yeah, you’re reading that correctly. Brooks’ present campaign is the worst we’ve seen in the Behind the Net era (2007 - present), whether you choose to measure it by possession or by on-ice production.
Just as a matter of exercise, let’s see how that indexes versus the entire league using the same parameters over the same period of time. Again, Orpik’s season is represented by the red point.
Bottom line, Brooks Orpik is having one of the worst seasons we’ve ever seen during the decade-plus stretch of Ovechkin-era Caps’, and beyond that, one of the worst seasons an everyday NHL defenseman has seen over that same period. While systems and deployment are without question contributing factors, nothing mitigates the fact that the Caps are paying top dollar for what, unfortunately, can only be considered a bottom-of-the-barrel defenseman.