Key Caps questions: Who will play on the team's third defensive pair?

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The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: What will be the team's primary third defensive pairing?

Barring any PTOs or breakout performances in training camp, we can reasonably assume Brooks Orpik, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be the three players battling it out to be on the third pair.

General manager Brian MacLellan went through some salary cap gymnastics to get Orpik back for next season at a much smaller cap hit, Djoos played 22 playoff games in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run and Bowey was signed to a one-way, two-year contract for $1 million per year. Clearly, all three are expected to be on the Caps’ roster next season and play a role, but that role will be limited considering the top-four is pretty much set with Michal Kempny-John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen.

Orpik will be 38 years old at the start of the season. His on and off-ice contributions are much greater than many were willing to acknowledge, but he was never a fast player and at his age, holding him to 60 games or fewer will make him a more effective player.

Djoos and Bowey are 24 and 23 respectively and, while both are ready for bigger roles, both are far from finished products. While they may be part of the future of Washington’s blue line, putting in two young, second-year players as their own pair is a risk.

But even if head coach Todd Reirden is not ready to turn the reins over to his two young defensemen just yet, he still needs to get both players plenty of playing time.

This is why Orpik may get a lot more playing time than many people think. The best thing for both Djoos and Bowey is for them to play. If you have concerns about them playing together, however, and neither is ready to supplant anyone in the top four, then you are going to see them cycle in and out of the lineup fairly frequently to play alongside Orpik.

That’s not to say we will never see a Djoos-Bowey pairing this season. They will probably have their chances and the better they look, the longer that pair will last. If they were ready, it would be a safe assumption that they would get the bulk of games together with Orpik serving more of a reserve role.

But a Djoos-Bowey pairing would be too vulnerable to opposing offenses at least at the start of the season and so we should expect a lot of Orpik.

While Reirden will work his defensive magic to bring Djoos-Bowey along as quickly as possible, I would anticipate Orpik-Djoos will see a majority of games this season as the team’s third defensive pairing.

Other key Caps questions:

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