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Penguins defenseman Orpik's future in limbo while awaiting GM hire

| Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 9:54 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Brooks Orpik plays against the Jets on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik had a comeback in mind.

Now, he might not be coming back at all.

The longest-tenured member of the Penguins may have played the final game for the only organization he has known when he sustained a right knee injury in Game 4 of the second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.

Orpik told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday that, had the Penguins defeated the Rangers — they had a 3-1 series lead at one point — and the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final, he intended to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was the plan,” Orpik said, “if we could make it that far.”

The Penguins, of course, didn't make it that far.

They fell three straight times to the Rangers, ending their season and general manager Ray Shero's reign.

Orpik and other unrestricted free agents on the team — including defenseman Matt Niskanen, forward Jussi Jokinen and defenseman Deryk Engelland — are in a holding pattern until a new leader of the organization's hockey operations is named.

“We still have time,” Orpik's agent, Lewis Gross, told the Tribune-Review. “Brooks isn't a free agent until July. We're not worried about Pittsburgh not having a GM right now.”

A first-round pick from Boston College in 2000, Orpik has played in 703 regular-season games with the Penguins since debuting in 2002. Orpik signed a six-year, $22.5 million contract to remain with the Penguins in 2008 when at least two other teams, including the Rangers, had made larger offers.

Orpik, who was raised in Buffalo and who resides during the summer in Boston, has never hinted that he would prefer to play elsewhere.

“I've only played for one team,” he said. “There is a lot of uncertainty there right now for everyone with a new GM coming in.”

The blue line could soon become crowded in Pittsburgh.

Defensemen Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo remain under contract for next season. From that core, only Martin is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. Maatta might not be ready to play when the season begins because of recent shoulder surgery.

Young defensemen in the Penguins' system such as Derrick Pouliot — also recovering from shoulder surgery — Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin are candidates to make the NHL roster next season. Defenseman Simon Despres, a restricted free agent this summer, could remain in the team's plans for next season.

No matter which team Orpik plays for next season, he made it clear he will be ready well before training camp.

He said his “body isn't breaking down.”

Orpik, 33, has played 92 career playoff games and was a member of the 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic teams.

“I would expect there to be heavy interest in him,” said Gross, who declined to say if returning to Pittsburgh was a high priority for Orpik.

Gross also said a long-term deal will be preferable for Orpik, but did not specify how many years are desired in a new deal.

Orpik said “another week or two” is required to complete the rehabilitation to the knee injury.

“Then, (I) start training again,” he said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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