In many ways, Brooks Orpik is the Original Penguin.
Drafted in 2000, Orpik has been there through the lean years as well as the eventual rebuilding of the Pittsburgh Penguins into a Stanley Cup Champion. He is the longest tenured member of the team and no doubt a valuable presence off the ice and in the locker room.
Having said that, it’s time Pittsburgh finally cut ties with the 33-year-old d-man, and sooner rather than later.
Orpik is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and one that will almost certainly garner a significant pay raise. His current cap hit of $3.75 million will surely go up should he test free agency, with some experts guessing he could fetch up to six million a year for certain teams. While he took a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh last time around, don’t expect more of the same.
On the back nine of his career, Orpik is looking for one final contract with enough cash and term to carry him into retirement. Should Pittsburgh choose to resign him, it could put some undue pressure on the team financially, even with the cap going up.
On the other side, if GM Ray Shero decides to let Orpik walk this summer, it could free up some significant cap space, and with so many blue-chip defense prospects in the system, they will have plenty of options to try out in his place.
Three years ago, I would have been all for resigning Orpik. A shut down defenseman with a vicious body check and good vision, Orpik was arguably Pittsburgh’s best blue-liner for several seasons.
However it’s 2014, and the harsh reality is that Orpik simply is not what he once was. His backward skating ability and transitional game are all but gone, a weakness that opposing teams are begging to target on up-ice rushes. It seems that more and more, speedy forwards are able to sneak behind Orpik and break into the offensive zone unencumbered.
Yes, he is still a dominant physical presence on a team that sometimes lacks grit, however hits is a stat that can be misleading. You can only record a hit when you don’t have the puck, so defenseman that record a lot of hits aren’t necessarily your pre-eminent shut down guys. I mean, when guys like Cody Franson, Luke Schenn, and Ben Lovejoy are league leaders in hits, that should tell you all you need to know about how valuable they stat is when evaluating defenseman.
While the decision to resign Orpik or let him walk will most likely be on Shero’s mind, there is a third option, and it comes via the trade wire. While he is in decline, Orpik is still a more than serviceable stay-at-home defenseman that a bunch of teams would love to have, and moreover, a guy that some teams would be willing to give up quite a bit to get.
If the team could swing a deal that sent Orpik somewhere in return for a legitimate bottom six scoring forward, Pittsburgh would be well to do so. However, time is ticking.
With the Olympic trade freeze coming into effect Saturday and the final NHL trade deadline on March 1st, there is not much time to try and make a trade should the Pens choose to go that route.
Moreover, some fear a poor showing at the Sochi games for Orpik could significantly hurt his trade value once the NHL resumes it’s schedule. If trading Orpik is part of their plan, they would be wise to pull the trigger as soon as they can.