With the Pittsburgh Penguins stocking up on defenseman via the draft, and the team already hovering over the salary cap limit — is this the final year for Brooks Orpik?
Orpik, 32, is entering the final-year of his contract he signed back in 2008, and will make $3.75 million this upcoming season.
Having being drafted by the Pens in the first-round (18th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Orpik has been a steady veteran for Pittsburgh throughout his tenure.
Winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and becoming the first-ever defenseman in franchise history to appear in 622 career games (April 2nd), Orpik knows Pittsburgh just as much as anybody.
He has played ten seasons with the Pens and although his numbers might not be as high as others, he’s contributed tremendously in categories that might not get as much acknowledgement.
Receiving the Pens Defensive Player of the Year Award twice (2010, 2011), Orpik helped lead the Pens to the number one penalty kill in the entire NHL during the 2010-11 campaign, and he ranked second on the team with 3:44 shorthanded minutes-per-game.
Leading all team blueliners in hits during the regular-season (119) and postseason (35) for the 2012-13 campaign, he also led the entire squad in blocked shots during the regular-season (114).
Unfortunately for him, all good things must come to an end eventually — and that very well could mean his departure at the conclusion of next season.
While the Pens would love to have him back, they also realize that they’ve signed Kris Letang to a new eight-year-deal and inked Rob Scuderi to a four-year-deal — leaving little wiggle room to reattain Orpik.
And because the organization has built such strong depth at the defensive position from the draft in recent years, they’re probably going to try to integrate those blueliners at some point next season — possibly even this year.
However, because defenseman Matt Niskanen will also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, there’s still a glimmer of hope that Orpik may wind up staying in Pittsburgh.
Niskanen, although still young, has underperformed on the defensive side and isn’t quite as good as Orpik is when it comes to making the smart play.
The only reason this may not end up working out is because the Pens also know Simon Despres will be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning they’ll have to make a decision on what to do with him as well.
While Despres hasn’t yet contributed as much as Orpik has, Pittsburgh knows that the former first-round draft pick is close to being a top-tier defenseman.
If this does turn out to be Orpik’s final ride with the Pens, you can bet he’ll be missed greatly in the locker room because of his outstanding leadership qualities.
We’ll have to see how this shakes out, but hopefully Orpik remains in the black and gold after next season.