Friday, June 27, 2008

Body of an American.....Orpik rejects the Penguins

Why wouldn't you sign this guy $4 million plus a year if you're a basement team?

In lieu of recent impending free agent news (Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts) it should come as no surprise that Brooks Orpik has rejected the Penguins latest contract offer. At this point, with just a few days left in June before unrestricted free agency, there's no reason for a guy who's trained and played hockey his whole life not to see what's out there on the open market.

Still, it's a little sad to know what was a pretty good offered (rumored to be about $14 million for four years [$3.5 million annually]) was rejected.

We don't doubt what Brooks Orpik said in January when he told reporters:

"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....Some guys get really upset with where they're at, 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."

We honestly believe what Orpik said to be true. But to turn down the serious money the Pens offered obviously shows a difference of philosphy. Maybe it's because Michel Therrien doesn't play him on the penalty kill and has had a frosty relationship with Orpik. That's not the end of the world, coaches and players don't need to be the best of friends and go out for beers after games; they need to win games.

Therrien shoved Orpik in a role of 4th line winger this season. Not because he was necessarily unhappy with Orpik, but he was trying to prove a point.

--Don't run around so much in the zone looking for a hit and opening up room for scoring chances.
--Stop taking so many lazy penalties that might lead to someone to rhyme your first name with an infraction and start a blog off of it.
--Play smart, play forceful.

To Therrien's credit, when Rob Scuderi was injured there was a hole opened up for Sergei Gonchar's partner. He didn't hesitate to plug Orpik in that gap and stuck with it for the rest of the season. Orpik rewarded him by redeeming himself to play the best hockey of his season. No doubt playing with the guy who came in 4th in Norris Trophy voting (and should have been higher than that) had something to do with it. But Orpik performed, he learned the lessons that HCMT was trying to convey and it showed.

At the end of the day though, it's about what the player wants. Despite his relationship with Therrien, Orpik has proven to be a loyal soldier to the Penguins regime and willing to accept whatever role they throw at him. While he rejected the Pens offer, it still seems out of Hossa and Malone, BO would be the most likely high profile UFA to return to the Pens. But to fit under the salary cap with their roster, how much more than the reportedly ~$3.5 million a season can Pittsburgh go? That's your $56.7 million dollar question.

Right now it doesn't seem like July 1 is shaping up to be a good day on 66 Mario Lemieux Place.

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