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With Free Agency Looming, Brooks Orpik’s Future Remains in Question

The 38-year-old came back to D.C. last season, but he becomes a pending UFA on July 1 and his future, in turn, carries a lot of questions.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Capitals Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Brooks Orpik skated away with the game puck. Leaving the ice, he knew very well that it could have been his final game.

“I think you when the season ends, whether you have a contract or not, you always think about it a little bit,” Orpik said. “But obviously when you don’t have a potentially not even playing next year, you think about it even more.”

The question of his future looms, to become a UFA at 38 years old on July 1. However, he isn’t stressing it too much; after being asked about what comes next at media breakdown day, he shrugged and revealed with a grin that he isn’t entirely sure.

“Future? We got Disney World coming up,” he joked. “I don’t know, I’ll just wait till my daughter is done with school here and then take a But I’m in no rush in terms of deciding on my future in terms of hockey. That’ll be down the road.”

Not too long after the Capitals finally captured their first Stanley Cup, the 38-year-old was Colorado Avalanche Philipp Grubauer, a move necessary in regards to creating cap space by purging the final year of his contract that paid him $5.5 million a season.

He was then immediately bought out by Colorado and became an unrestricted free agent before returning to Washington on a one-year, $1 million deal. The decision to bring him back felt necessary, especially given his contributions to the Capitals since being brought in back in 2014.

“The impact he’s had on our team is probably second to none, the way he’s changed the culture and pushed guys to make them better,” Braden Holtby said. “One of the true leaders in our game, and to have been able to grow through him as a team, we wouldn’t have a Stanley Cup if it wasn’t for him. Outstanding teammate.”

After becoming one of the NCAA’s top defensemen with Boston College, Orpik made his way to the NHL in 2001, when he went to the Pittsburgh Penguins 18th overall. He’s been in the league ever since, and over the course of 1,035 career games with the Penguins and Capitals, who he joined in the 2014 offseason, he’s accumulated 18 goals and 194 points and is a plus-79, and he also has two Stanley Cup rings to boot.

Some of his most meaningful time, however, has been in D.C., especially after he helped them finally reach their goal of hoisting the Cup last season.

Over his five years with the Capitals, not only did he prove to his locker room presence alone has had the most impact.

“He’s kind of been the pillar that everybody’s looked up to, everyone’s tried to follow along. He’s been great for us on the ice and certainly what he’s done for me... but I think he’s been a force for all of us to gain knowledge from,” John Carlson said. “How [to] better understand certain parts of the game, what it takes, the mental side of it. He’s just a really aware person that can help anybody at any part of their career at any level of play. He’s just been so important to us.”

In regards to what the plan is over months, Orpik said he’s going to take will be taking a lot of time to consider other factors, including family, to keep playing. Ultimately, even if he does elect to stay, he plans to spend some time with family and start skating again in July.

“You got to be 100 percent committed to [that choice]. If you’re not, then it’s unfair to your teammates and other people that are trying to help you out,” Orpik said. “In terms of like, wanting to play or being committed I think that’s something that, I think when stuff doesn’t go your way after the season, you got to take a lot of time off to let things settle down.”

Despite his presence being felt in his return to the Capitals this season, Orpik had his fair share of struggles this season; early in the year, he injured his knee and needed surgery, which held him out until the end of December. After that, he never fully felt right as his recovery continued into the playoffs, where the Hurricanes would eliminate Washington in seven games to spoil their chance to repeat.

Still, even though he wasn’t happy with the way the season ended, his teammates hope that he won’t stop now.

“It’s hard to put into words what a guy like that means to a team... he’s one of the guys on the team who makes it fun coming back to the rink. We were extremely lucky to have him and I hope he’s coming back.”

Wilson also added that Orpik is a friend to everyone regardless of age and that he could never imagine playing against him.

“That guy’s never taken a shift off in his whole career, I don’t think. been some hard miles there and extremely proud of him obviously to keep pushing forward and hopefully he’s got more hockey in him,” Wilson said.

General manager Brian MacLellan isn’t sure what the Capitals will do yet in regards to Orpik, as they have several needs to address with such a tight salary cap, including a likely long-term deal for Jakub Vrana and the future of Andre Burakovsky, Carl Hagelin, Chandler Stephenson and several pending free agents.

“It might be tough for us. We’re going to wait to see what he says. He’s been great for us over the five years; of him. So, it’s been a good relationship,” MacLellan said. “We’ll see how he does here with his injuries and his attitude and whether he wants to continue playing and whether we have room... we’ll cross that bridge when he makes his decision.”