Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters signed by Capitals
New GM MacLellan addresses defence, goaltending; re-signs Latta
Matt Niskanen is once again a teammate of Brooks Orpik.
A few hours after the Washington Capitals announced the signing of Orpik to a five-year deal worth $27.5 million US on Tuesday, they agreed to a seven-year, $40.25 million pact with fellow free agent Niskanen.
The former Pittsburgh Penguins blueliners will make a combined $11.25 million on average during the life of their deals.
We have stated all along that upgrading the defence was our top priority this off-season.- Capitals GM Brian MacLellan on the Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik signings
Niskanen, who made $2.5 million this past season, more than doubles his annual average value after having a career season in 2013-14 with the Penguins.
The 27-year-old more than doubled his point total (46) from the 82-game season in 2011-12 (21). His plus-33 rating no doubt was also attractive to Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan.
"At 27 years of age, he is just entering his prime for a defenceman," MacLellan said in a team news release. "We feel he will be a staple on our blue-line for many years to come.
"We have stated all along that upgrading the defence was our top priority this off-season and we feel we accomplished our goal with our signings today."
Last season, three-time NHL MVP Ovechkin and the Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years, leading ownership to make changes. George McPhee's contract was not renewed after he spent 17 seasons as the Capitals' GM, while Adam Oates was fired with a year left on his three-season deal.
MacLellan was promoted from assistant GM to replace McPhee, while Barry Trotz was hired as the new coach.
Washington also has added assistant coach Todd Reirden, who was hired by the Capitals after the Penguins fired him.
Peters on board, Latta re-signed
Also Tuesday, the Capitals signed goaltender Justin Peters to a two-year, $1.9 million deal and re-signed centre Michael Latta to a $1.15 million contract.
The 33-year-old Orpik has played his entire NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who drafted him in the first round in 2000.
"I've got to be honest: Up until this year, I never really envisioned myself leaving Pittsburgh. As everyone knows, there's been a lot of changes there. It really was a perfect time," Orpik said. "The past year, there was such strong expectations for the team, both internally and externally, and I think we had a really tough time handling those expectations."
Orpik is the sort of rugged defenceman the Capitals lacked in recent seasons, when captain Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom led a high-flying offence.
"We feel Brooks's leadership and experience will greatly enhance our defence for years to come," MacLellan said in a statement. "Brooks plays tough minutes against the opposition's best players."
In Washington, Orpik will be reunited with Reirden, his defence coach in Pittsburgh.
Reirden recently joined the Washington staff after being let go by the Penguins following the hiring of head coach Mike Johnston and assistant Rick Tocchet.
The six-foot-two, 219-pound Orpik has 13 goals, 119 assists and 734 penalty minutes in 703 career games. His a two-time U.S. Olympian and was an alternate captain for the Penguins since 2008.
"We feel Brooks's leadership and experience will greatly enhance our defence for years to come," MacLellan said. "Brooks plays tough minutes against the opposition's best players."
The 27-year-old Peters went 7-9-4 with a 2.50 goals-against average and .919 save percentage for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. He also played in six games for Charlotte of the American Hockey League.
Peters made his NHL debut in February 2010, six years after being drafted in the second round by the Hurricanes.
For his career, Peters is 22-31-8 with a 3.05 GAA and .904 save percentage.
"When the head coach on the team looks you in the eye and tell you he wants you to be there, that goes a long way," Peters said.
He said that he wasn't told how he'll be used with the Capitals — strictly as a No. 2 behind Braden Holtby, or splitting time in the top goalie spot — but added that he thinks it will "work itself out."
In the Capitals' announcement of the deal, MacLellan is quoted as saying the team believes Peters "is just entering his prime and has a tremendous upside."
Latta, 23, had one goal, three assists and 12 penalty minutes in 17 games for the Capitals last season, when he made his NHL debut.
With files from CBCSports.ca