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Orpik joins Pens' bargain line

| Thursday, July 3, 2008

Brooks Orpik awoke Wednesday with a list of three teams, down from 10 the previous day, of which he could have signed a contract with to play hockey next season and beyond.

He was waiting for one of those clubs to make the decision for him, and the Penguins acquiesced -- much to his relief.

"Deep down, I always knew Pittsburgh was the place I would be happiest," said Orpik, who inked a six-year contract worth $22.5 million to continue playing defense with the Penguins. "After the year we had and knowing the young core of guys we have coming back for that much longer ...

"I thought, 'If guys like (Sidney Crosby) and (Evgeni Malkin) can take less, everybody else can, too, including me."

The offers Orpik, 27, could have accepted from two other teams -- one of which was the Atlantic Division rival New York Rangers - would have paid him a higher annual salary.

But on a day the Penguins officially announced a five-year extension with Malkin for $43.5 million, Orpik's willingness to take less than his market value as an unrestricted free agent helped soften the blow of losing star right wing Marian Hossa to the Detroit Red Wings.

Orpik's deal includes a limited movement clause.

It also marks the second consecutive summer general manager Ray Shero has solidified his defense by securing a core player to a long-term deal. Ryan Whitney, 25, signed a six-year contract worth $24 million on July 1, 2007.

That agreement was the first of several Shero has reached with young players he hopes will keep the Penguins contending for Stanley Cup titles into the next decade.

Crosby, 20, sacrificed the probability of an individual maximum contract with a five-year extension at $8.7 million annually, signed July 10, 2007.

Both he and Malkin, 21, could have commanded annual salaries at 20 percent of the NHL team payroll upper limit -- $56.7 million for next season - but opted to provide the Penguins salary-cap space to build and maintain a contender.

Given the surge in annual salaries to players over the opening days of the free-agent signing period, Shero said he is thrilled his young players are giving the Penguins a so-called discount.

"The way the cap has gone - yeah," Shero said. "(Keeping) the players that want to be here and play for Pittsburgh is the important goal for me.

Brooks Orpik took less money to play here. Evgeni Malkin took less to be here. ... We've got a great thing to offer. We've got a great thing going."

Up next, Shero said, is a long-term contract for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, 23, who is eligible for an arbitration hearing no sooner than July 20.

Shero is involved in active negotiations with Fleury's agent, Allan Walsh, and he is optimistic a deal will be reached by the weekend.

"Hopefully, that will be solidified in the next few days," Shero said.

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