Orpik-Therrien relationship takes strange turns
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For two guys who aren't supposed to like each other, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik and coach Michel Therrien have a strange way of showing it. Orpik could have left as a free agent after last season but signed a six-year deal to stay in Pittsburgh. Therrien could have picked any number of veteran players to be Sidney Crosby's alternate captain this season but chose Orpik. Much more of this and people are going to start talking.
They're always going to talk, Therrien figures.
"It was all speculation," he said yesterday in his Mellon Arena office of his alleged rancor with Orpik. "I never had a problem with Brooks Orpik. Not once did Brooksie ever come to see me and say we had a problem. My door is always open."
That doesn't mean Therrien and Orpik are warm and fuzzy. That isn't going to happen. Therrien is a tough-love coach who isn't afraid to challenge his players, sometimes with extreme measures. Orpik, like most players, has an ego and a sensitive side.
- Game Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Mellon Arena.
- TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
But what's important is that Therrien and Orpik have showed with their actions -- forget their words -- that they can co-exist and thrive. What's important is that the Penguins are a much better team because Orpik -- their top defenseman with Sergei Gonchar out -- stayed.
"Funny how it turned out," Orpik said. "I was 90 percent sure I'd be somewhere else this season."
In December, when Therrien made Orpik a healthy scratch in three consecutive games, including one in Boston where he played his college hockey, that might have been 95 percent. And in late January, when Therrien again showed his displeasure with Orpik's play by exiling him to left wing for a game at New Jersey, it might have been 99.9 percent.
"I had my reasons," Therrien said. "I don't just pick on a player for the fun of it.
"We know Brooksie's potential. We know what he's capable of doing. We worked with him like we work with a lot of players. He brought his game to a new level. He ended up playing with Gonchar against the other team's best players ...
"Brooksie is probably the one guy who improved the most the past three years. He earned [the alternate captain's position]. I'm not a guy who gives that out easily. He definitely got it because he earned it."
A $22.5 million contract, too.
Orpik had other options. The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings showed great interest and would have paid more. He was especially intrigued with the Kings -- "It seemed to be in the exact same situation that this club was in a couple years ago; it's a club that's really organized and has a direction and is stockpiling young players" -- but, in the end, chose Pittsburgh, Crosby, his other teammates and -- yes -- Therrien.
"I'm comfortable here," Orpik said. "I remember talking to [former Penguin] Gary Roberts about it. He said I won't need the difference in the money to be happy at the end of my career. 'Play where you're happy,' he told me. I'm happy here."
All of it should make for a deafening ovation for Orpik from the Mellon Arena crowd tomorrow night at the home opener against the New Jersey Devils. He's the team's most physical defenseman, for one thing. Ask Daniel Cleary and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, whom he leveled during an incredible four-hit, 15-second sequence in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. But what really separates Orpik is that he didn't turn his back on the town or its team, taking less in the process. Pittsburghers love that. They don't take kindly to those they feel betrayed them. Marian Hossa will find that out when he comes back Feb. 8.
"I didn't foresee any of this happening," Orpik said. "After that last game -- Game 6 against Detroit -- [former Penguin] Ryan Malone and I kind of looked at each other and assumed that was it for us here. Then, a few days later, when I packed everything up to head out of town, I looked around the room and felt kind of sad about leaving.
"The next thing I knew, I'm back here."
"It definitely turned out for the best for me. This place is home."
For Therrien, too.
He signed a new three-year contract in July for about $1 million per season.
Hey, maybe the Penguins' family is a bit dysfunctional. But it's still their family.
First Published October 10, 2008 12:00 am