It’s been a busy day for Capitals GM Brian MacLellan. After signing Brooks Orpik to a massive deal earlier in the day, hours later he was able to sign Orpik’s former teammate Matt Niskanen away from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As questionable as the Orpik signing was, the Niskanen deal goes a long way towards making this a palatable free agency debut for MacLellan and the Capitals. Niskanen had top-pair possession numbers and was a factor on the Penguins stellar power play unit.
While Niskanen surely benefited from sharing ice time with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin last season, he arguably helped make them better as well. His teammates enjoyed positive possession while he was on the ice. He was head and shoulders above the rest of the Penguins’ defense in possession including Kris Letang. Make no mistake, he is a legitimate top-pair defenseman right now.
The deal clocks in at an annual average of $5.75 over the next seven years. The term may be long, but defensemen like Niskanen, who are nimble and able to move the puck, tend to age well and he’ll only be 34 by the end of it. With the cap likely rising over time, this should look like a relative bargain over the length of the contract.
It would seem that newly-minted Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden, who coached the Penguins’ defense under Dan Bylsma last year, was instrumental in luring the two former Penguins to D.C. In the immediate future, it figures that Orpik will now be bumped down to the third pair, where he’s an ideal fit, to play alongside Dmitry Orlov. It might make sense for Niskanen to play top-pair minutes with John Carlson and have Karl Alzner and Mike Green round out a formidable second pair.
At some point, the Capitals will have to address their group of forwards and centers, and they’re pretty much out of cap room. MacLellan may not be done reshuffling the roster and may look to improve it via a trade, particularly to address the second-line center issue.
Still, as of tonight, the Capitals have a formidable blue line, easily the best they’ve featured since the Rock the Red era began.