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Penguins' Orpik: Bringing back fans is league's job

| Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, 3:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Penguins defenseman Brook Orpik holds down the Flyers' James van Riemsdyk next to goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during the third period Friday, April 20, 2012, at Consol Energy Center. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik hopes the 2012-13 season isn't canceled because of the NHL lockout, which hit Day 100 on Monday.

He also hopes the league has a plan to lure fans back into arenas.

“Obviously you think about that kind of stuff,” said Orpik, who is going through his second lockout. “But the league, that's their side of things. They're the ones who need to worry about marketing. Our job is to play our best. We are the product. There is no league without us.”

The NHL and its Players' Association haven't negotiated in three weeks and last met with federal mediators two weeks ago.

Orpik admitted he never saw this situation coming and that fans might hesitate to return to the NHL, unlike in 2005, when most teams were welcomed back with open arms.

The veteran defenseman thinks a lost season could be disastrous for the league and even believes that the lockout — even if it ends soon — has possibly caused severe damage.

“I'm interested to see if anyone's interested when (if) we come back in January,” Orpik said. “It has a whole different feel this time around. Back in 2004, everybody knew there was a 90 percent chance there wasn't going to be a season. It wasn't a big surprise. I know most people this time thought we'd miss some time, but nobody thought we might must a whole season. I thought, worst case scenario, we'd know what was going on by Christmas.”

Instead, no one seems to know what's going on.

The sides don't have plans to negotiate, and it's believed the league could cancel the season if a deal isn't in place by around Jan. 10.

When and if the NHL returns, Orpik said, the league's public relations staff had better be working in overdrive.

“They're in charge of that stuff, to market the game,” Orpik said. “The only way we can sell the game as players is to play as well as possible and to be accessible with the fans and media. But the rest is the league's job.”

Marketing the game this time around might not be so easy.

In 2005, the league altered the game by adding numerous rules to generate scoring. Also, rookie stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin entered the league with much fanfare and immediately produced, giving the league its most marketable presence since Penguins owner Mario Lemieux debuted in 1984.

However, there are no rookie mega-stars about to enter the game. Also, the NHL is coming off its lowest scoring season since the previous lockout, and no plans are in place to open scoring.

“There were selling points back then,” Orpik said.

Now, Orpik and the rest of the Penguins can only hope a return to the ice is enough to bring fans back.

“I'm not worried about Pittsburgh,” Orpik said. “This is a traditional market. But I worry about places like Florida and Phoenix. They had great playoff runs last year. You hope the fans come back. But it's not our job to worry about that.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com.

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