Rod Langway is in the Hockey Hall of Fame because he was something that's become a rare commodity in today's NHL: the defensive defenseman.
"In a lot of situations, that's the missing link on a championship team," Langway told me at a party held in Alex Ovechkin's honor recently. "When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, who's on the ice? You need a big defenseman who will clear people away."
In a League filled more and more with fleet-skating, puck-moving D-men, the "defensive defenseman" has been coveted. "I don't think they get enough credit. But it seems like the one request when a coach goes to a GM is that we need a defensive defenseman," said Langway. "It's just another label. It makes some defensemen more money."
Especially on the open market. Going into the off-season, Brooks Orpik was one of the last Pittsburgh Penguins free agents that I expected to return to the team. A physical, defense-first UFA should have been snatched away like a free sandwich at a Professional Hockey Writers Association meeting. Yet Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports today that Orpik and the Penguins are talking about a new contract, and that Orpik might even drop his price tag for a few extra years in Pittsburgh:
Orpik was a minus-3 over 20 playoff games, but that statistic does not measure his impact on the Penguins' success. The physical presence he provided was praised by coach Michel Therrien - not often Orpik's greatest supporter - and noted by opposing coaches.
The Orpik-Gonchar pairing frustrated top forwards such as Dany Heatley of Ottawa, Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers and Daniel Briere of Philadelphia in helping the Penguins to reach the Stanley Cup final.
The NHL announced today that its payroll range "provides for a Lower Limit of $40.7 million, an Adjusted Midpoint of $48.7 million and an Upper Limit of $56.7 million." Even with the increase, getting Orpik in at a cheaper rate would do wonders for the Pens' cap situation.
With all the talk about Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone, this could be the signing Penguins fans look back upon with wistful nostalgia if their team wins a Stanley Cup in the next few years. In fact, one writer sees Orpik as Pittsburgh's answer to Scott Stevens.
SheeSHU over on the Pittsburgh Penguins blog writes about what Stevens meant to the Devils, and what Orpik means to the Penguins:
Is Brooks Orpik like a younger Scott Stevens? Not necessarily, but there are similarities in their play styles. Personally, I think some of the hits Stevens unleashed were riding the thin line of clean and cheap, but no one can question the tenacity he played with.
Orpik has that kind of warrior tenacity. The one shift that will live on forever in Penguins lore is when he took 4 different Red Wings to the ice in all of 45 seconds. That may have been the greatest shift of the playoffs by any player on any team.
Now here's the other common thread between the two. If you'll recall, Stevens suffered a concussion in an early season game against the Penguins during the 2003-04 season.
Who's the man who dropped the hammer down on Stevens and effectively ended his career?
Yep. Brooks Orpik.
Wowzer ... cue "Twilight Zone" theme. Or not.
The point is taken, however, that a defenseman who can be a shutdown guy while also changing the momentum of a game in a single, punishing shift is a rare combination. Stevens had it, and Orpik has it.
So snagging him before another, higher bidder does should be imperative for the Penguins.
And for the ladies ...