Oct 30, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) and right wing Pascal Dupuis (9) celebrate as defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) and defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) join in after Sutter scored a goal against the Boston Bruins during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who Do You Sign: Niskanen or Orpik?

 

While it still remains a possibility that Pittsburgh Penguins’ defensemen Brooks Orpik or Matt Niskanen gets traded, the importance of their presence in the lineup for a playoff push makes that unlikely.

However, they both will become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and because general manager Ray Shero is spontaneously active, we shouldn’t disregard the idea of trading them entirely.

Should they both stay put, and not be dealt, the question of who the organization would rather sign is a bit foggy. Should it be long-time Pens’ workhorse Orpik, or a younger, resurgent Niskanen? Or neither?

Orpik has spent his entire NHL career with the Pittsburgh organization, but his age poses a problem. This season, Orpik is making $3.75 million, and certainly won’t reel-in that kind of cash should he re-sign. But do the Pens’ want him back?

Although he leads all Pens’ defensemen in hits (108) and tops the team in blocked shots (81), Orpik has lost a little in his step. And the fact that the organization has tremendous defensive talent waiting for their chance to give the NHL a whirl, Orpik might not get an opportunity to sign back on with Pittsburgh.

He’s been a valued blueliner throughout the years, and there’s no denying that. However, the organization doesn’t have enough money to spend as is, and knowing the talent of Olli Maatta, along with the rest of the prospects coming-up, they will need every penny they can to eventually sign them.

Orpik, in my opinion, might be in the midst of his last tenure with Pittsburgh. His trade value is next-to-nothing, which is why I think he won’t be dealt, but he won’t be re-signed either. You never like to see a player leave, much less one whose been in the organization from the start; however, this is a business, and future blueprints will be drawn.

Niskanen is the more intriguing player.

Outcasted at the start of the season for being the potential odd-man out, Niskanen was once speculated to have the highest chance of being traded. Part of the reasoning was that the team had just signed defenseman Kris Letang and forward Evgeni Malkin to gigantic deals, and knowing the squad’s abundance in blueliners, Niskanen’s name came-out.

Perhaps maybe not specifically because of his play, but more to the fact of his expiring contract and salary for this season. Boy did Pittsburgh make the right decision in not dealing him.

Leading the league with a plus-26 rating, Niskanen has been the Pens’ most reliable defenseman. In fact, he’s been the only blueliner to have played in every game this season, which is surprising considering his injury history.

Topping the team with five game-winning tallies, Niskanen leads all Pens’ defensemen in scoring with 25 points (5G, 20A), and has 12 points in his last 13-contests. Understanding it’s his last chance to impress the Pens’ brass and show that he belongs, Niskanen, so far, is giving the organization a tough decision to make.

Should you deal him knowing he’s got the most value, or do you keep and re-sign him at the end of the season? He’s still young at 27-years-old, and we also got to remember that he was a first-round selection. It’s possible he’s just a late-bloomer.

Maatta has had his fair share of partners this season (Bortuzzo, Engelland, Letang, Niskanen), but he seems to mesh well with Niskanen. The two blueliners were paired-up when the team’s top-4 d-men went down, and they formed a formidable tandem. They seized the responsibility, and it showed on the ice.

The team needs Niskanen for the playoffs, so dealing him would, for me, be out of the question. He’s been too diligent and really has come on this campaign.

If they don’t trade him, I think he deserves the contract over Orpik. Niskanen is still pretty young, has shown he’s growing within the system, and is a perfect pair with Maatta.

Albeit, the team still has to work around the payroll. But they have forwards Chris Conner, Tanner Glass, Jussi Jokinen, Chuck Kobasew, Taylor Pyatt, Zach Sill, Joe Vitale and defenseman Deryk Engelland becoming free agents – so you know some money will be preserved in preparation for Niskanen’s contract.

If they’re not planning on re-signing Niskanen, the team should trade him because his value is as-big-as it will ever be right now. However, giving him – and not Orpik – a new deal is the best option for Pittsburgh moving forward.

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