What do those seven Penguins skaters have in common? As of July 1 they are free to find another place to play.
Ray Shero, smartly, has only signed veterans for a term of one or two years, preferring to spend the lion-share of the team’s cap room on the nucleus of the franchise’s core. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify the core: it’s Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal and Whitney. And it shouldn’t be a surprise.
All of the impending unrestricted free agents are pretty good at what role they’re cast to. They’re veterans and most, as you’d expect, are predictably reliable. None, however, are cornerstones to the team and it’s not a stretch to imagine the majority of this list could be plying their craft somewhere else starting next fall.
There are two players of this bunch that intrigue us here at TST the most. They probably intrigue most Pens fans and observers because they have the complete package: size, skill, reasonable speed, physicality and most hauntingly “the potential of youth”. Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik, though almost UFA ready still seem like they have the potential to have a bigger impact than they’ve since shown. Both lack consistency. Both have shown flashes of brilliance.
Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement Malone (28) and Orpik (27) are years younger than the tradition unrestricted free agent. Malone’s NHL career is just 266 games so far and Orpik has only 264, which is just over 3 seasons worth for both. It’s strange to think both are hitting the open market when it seems like they’re just getting started.
We bring this up over something Orpik said in today’s Post-Gazette.
Even though there have been times this season when Orpik has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, he said he'd be "very receptive" to negotiating a deal to remain with the Penguins.
"I've loved all the time I've had here," he said. "I love the guys here, love the direction Ray [Shero, the general manager] has put the organization in. Everything here is done first-class, very professionally."
While there clearly would be a market for a defenseman with Orpik's willingness -- and ability -- to play the body, he expressed no great desire to test the open market.
"Some guys get really upset with where they're at," Orpik said. "They can't wait to get to July 1 to get out of a situation. ... I've talked with a lot of guys I've played with here who have gone other places, and they kind of wish they could come back."
While we don’t doubt Orpik must enjoy his teammates and the only organ-eye-zation he’s ever known, doesn’t he have an agent? One that could tell him that if a 32 year old Andy Sutton can fetch $9 million over three years then dangit Brooks, you can too.
Also a new opportunity might do Orpik well. As the article alludes to, he’s been benched, gone through a long streak of sitting in the press box (including once in his hometown of Bahhston) and even when he’s in the lineup he’s averaged 16:46.
Orpik’s done his part to make his minutes count, with a team high 129 hits. He is the only physical defenseman on the roster, given the next blueliner is Kris Letang (39 hits in 31 games) and, brace yourself, the Sarge (34 hits in 45 games).
But physical play doesn’t always translate into smart play or indicate the coaches are happy with your performance. Orpik is on the ice for penalty kills a mere :42 a game. He mans a point on the powerplay (if you can call it that) for an average of :50 a game.
So you’re a physical defenseman but the coaches don’t trust you on the PK. You’re getting less icetime than a 20 year old rookie. You have the chance for a big payday with a team that will fall for your big hits and “potential” for more consistency. But you want to stay?
We’ll see how this pans out, we’d love to see Orpik stay and love even more for his performance (and minutes) to pick up but we just can’t see it happening.
By the way, UFA predictions:
- Ruutu: Didn’t get a bigger role, 80% chance of leaving
- Laraque: Still is happy here, team still needs that presence, 75% staying
- Eaton: Great when not injured, problem is injured too much, 50% staying (we think the Pens might not want him for durability fear, not Eaton wanting to leave)
- Hall: Great roleplayer and PK’er but his type is a dime-a-dozen 40% of staying just since Shero knows him so well
- Roberts: whatever he wants to do, stay, go to a Canadian team, retire…As usual Gary’s calling the shots, 100% awesome
- Malone: Pittsburgh boy, hard to see him leaving when he’s so comfortable with team/city but it is UFA; 50% chance of staying
- Orpik: Saying all the right things but all signs are pointing to a departure, 25% chance of staying (due to above comments)