Orpik's future with Penguins still uncertain

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Within a few weeks of their loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference final earlier this year, the Penguins signed forwards Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz and defenseman Kris Letang to contract extensions, a year before their current deals expire.

Another seemingly logical player for such negotiations was defenseman Brooks Orpik, their longest-tenured player.

Instead? Crickets.

Orpik, who is entering the final season of a six-year, $22.5 million deal, was asked Monday whether he had had talks or plans to have talks with the Penguins about a new contract before he would become eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.

Again, crickets.

"No comment," Orpik said. "I'd rather not talk about it."

It's not as if Orpik needs the motivation of playing in a contract year to be effective. When healthy, he has been a reliable, physical defenseman for years.

And he is healthy.

"I actually had a summer working out instead of rehabbing, so I feel a little better strength-wise and timing-wise," said Orpik, who has had lower abdominal surgeries on each side in recent years. "A lot of that soreness you're working through isn't there this year. It just feels kind of normal."

Orpik, who was not in the lineup Sunday for the preseason game at Columbus, was paired Monday night with Paul Martin and logged 18:25 of ice time in a 4-1 preseason loss against Detroit at Consol Energy Center.

Those two defensemen are expected to play together again this season after forming a shutdown pairing last season. Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi are also expected to be paired, and each of those two pairings could be matched against opponents' top lines, blurring the line defining which is a top line or a shutdown line.

Not that Orpik is into labels.

"As a defenseman, no matter what pairing you're on, your job is to shut down the offense," he said. "I don't know if there really is a shutdown pair. You could say there maybe is a pair that plays against other teams' top lines more."

In 46 games last season, Orpik led Penguins defensemen with 119 hits and was the team's top shot-blocker(114), including a team-record nine Jan. 27 against Ottawa. That marked a new area of statistical excellence for Orpik, who turns 33 next week and previously was known for his hitting but not as much for blocking shots.

He doesn't put a lot of stock in those statistics, particularly the blocked shots.

"It's kind of like hits -- sometimes they're there, and there are times they're not," Orpik said.

"A lot of those stats are misleading. They're different in every building. You try not to pay too much attention to it.

"You try not to get hurt, either. Blocking shots, you're upping your chances of getting hurt. There's a goalie behind you that has a lot more equipment than you. We actually tried to get away from blocking a lot of shots last year. When it's there, fine, but a lot of times if you [try and] you don't block it, you're screening your goalie. That's something you try to be a little conscious of."

Orpik's preferred method of blocking shots is cutting off angles and using his stick. It's not likely he'll be seen impersonating a baseball runner sliding into second base.

"I've always been taught that once you leave your feet, you're out of position," he said. "Guys are so skilled. If they pump-fake you or they make a move, once you leave your feet, you're out of position and it's tough to recover, The more you can stay upright, the better off you are."

Orpik was a Penguins first-round draft pick, 15th overall, in 2000, broke into the NHL with them in 2002-03, has spent a decade as a regular on their blue line, and has played more games (631) than any other defenseman in club history.

But he still doesn't count on anything relating to job security, at least as a matter of approach in training camp.

"I don't know how many spots are open or how many guys are so-called locks," he said. "That's for other people to decide. We don't really get that information. So, no matter who you are, you always have something to prove going into the season. From a minor league guy up to Sid [Crosby], I'd think they'd say the same thing."

If Orpik feels the need to prove he deserves another contract with the Penguins, or some particular terms in a new contract, he's not saying.


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published September 17, 2013 5:00 AM


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