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‘There’s lots of hockey left in Brooks Orpik,’ says Pens coach

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In September, pending UFA Brooks Orpik said he’d “rather not talk about” any potential new deal with Pittsburgh.

Several months later, he’s sticking to his guns. From the Post-Gazette:

What place, if any, he has in the Penguins’ plans beyond this season is not clear, and both sides apparently are content to keep it that way.

Asked if his agent, Lewis Gross, has had any discussions with general manager Ray Shero about a new deal, Orpik smiled and said, “That’s something Ray and I agreed we wouldn’t talk about in the media. We’ll just let it play out and see what happens.”

One guy that was willing to speak about Orpik’s playing future, though, was Pens assistant coach Todd Reirden.

“There’s lots of hockey left in Brooks Orpik,” Reirden said. “I can’t say enough about the job he’s done, playing against the other team’s top players every night.

“He’s definitely not at the end of the road, in terms of his career.”

Orpik, 33, is at the end of the road contractually. He’s in the last of a six-year, $22.5 million deal, one that carries an average annual cap hit of $3.75 million.

The big-bodied defenseman has been a tremendous foot soldier for the Pens since debuting in 2002-03. He’s appeared in 701 games (the most by a Pittsburgh defenseman) and played 87 postseason contests, including all 24 en route to the team’s Stanley Cup championship in 2009.

The Pens were also extremely reliant on Orpik during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.

He averaged 22:17 TOI per game during the regular season — the second-highest total of his career — then upped his minutes per game to 25:08 in the playoffs, the highest of his career. This year he’s once again been a busy man, especially in the wake of injuries to Rob Scuderi, Kris Letang and Paul Martin, averaging over 21 minutes per game while representing the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Despite all that, Orpik’s time as a Penguin might be coming to a close.

Pittsburgh’s dedicated large sums of money to Letang ($7.25 million a season until 2022) and Scuderi, who’ll earn $3.375 annually until 2017. Martin still has one year left at $5 million, and the incoming wave of young blueline prospects — Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin — suggests Orpik might not be around past this season.

Because of that, the prospect of an uncertain future is always on Orpik’s mind.

“I’ve thought about it a ton,” he said. “I think that’s just natural. It’s always on your mind. But the only thing you can do about it now is to just try to have the same approach to games.

“I don’t want to say it puts more pressure on you, but you’re definitely aware of what your individual situation is.”

Schwartz (hand) suffers scare at Blues practice, but Hitch says ‘he’ll be fine’

St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz celebrates after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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You couldn’t blame the Blues for freaking out a bit today when Jaden Schwartz left practice after an apparent hand injury, and didn’t return.

It was last October, of course, when Schwartz fractured his ankle during practice, an injury that required surgery and sidelined him for 49 games.

Thankfully for St. Louis, it won’t be deja vu.

From the Post-Dispatch:

Coach Ken Hitchcock said Schwartz was fine but would miss some practice.

“He’ll need a couple days off, but he’s a lot like Fabbri,” Hitchcock said. “He’s probably not going to skate this weekend in any of the games but he’ll be ready to go next weekend.

“He’s day to day. He’ll be fine.”

Signed to a five-year, $26.75 million extension this summer, Schwartz will be a big piece of the Blues moving forward.

He’s coming off a good playoff run — 14 points in 20 games — and the club is hopeful he can build on the goalscoring form shown in ’13-14 (25 tallies) and ’14-15 (a career-high 28).

 

Kucherov won’t report to Bolts until he’s signed

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 16: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning is checked by Danny DeKeyser #65 of the Detroit Red Wings in front of Petr Mrazek #34 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 16, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Nikita Kucherov will not report to Tampa Bay Lightning training camp until he’s signed. The 23-year-old winger is not currently under contract, though as a restricted free agent he is partially under club control.

From the Tampa Bay Times, which confirmed through GM Steve Yzerman that Kucherov would not be reporting:

Kucherov, the team’s leading scorer last season, could warrant $6 million or more annually. And that makes it difficult for the Lightning, which has between $5-5.5 million of cap space remaining, per CapFriendly.com. It begs the question whether Tampa Bay may need to make another move to create room. With the season opening two weeks from today, no deal appears imminent.

Yzerman said earlier in the month that he can get Kucherov signed without making a trade, but as mentioned, no deal has been reached yet.

Kucherov is one of a handful of high-profile RFAs who remain unsigned as the regular season approaches. The others are Johnny Gaudreau, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jacob Trouba, Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, and Tobias Rieder, the latter of whom requested a trade yesterday.

Trouba has also requested a trade.

Related: Ristolainen, still without a contract, makes ‘good will’ gesture towards Sabres

Another — yes, another — blow for Dallas as Janmark spotted on crutches

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 22: Mattias Janmark #13 of the Dallas Stars looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 22, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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This has been a forgettable month for the Stars.

To say the least.

Having already lost Tyler Seguin (heel), Cody Eakin (knee) and Ales Hemsky (groin) to injury — and Valeri Nichushkin to the KHL — Dallas could now be without versatile Swedish forward Mattias Janmark, who was spotted on crutches Thursday at the club’s practice facility.

Janmark missed Wednesday’s game against Colorado, and was held out of today’s training session.

After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp last year — a “great story,” according to GM Jim Nill — Janmark, 23, went on to have a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

If there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that Dallas has arguably the NHL’s deepest forward group. Even with Seguin, Eakin, Hemsky, Nichushkin and Janmark out of action, the Stars can still roll the likes of Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler, and still have one of the league’s premier point producers on defense in John Klingberg.

That said, the team really can’t afford any more guys getting hurt.

Ristolainen, still without a contract, makes ‘good will’ gesture towards Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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Rasmus Ristolainen doesn’t have a contract yet, and he’s not particularly close to getting one either.

But the Sabres defenseman, a restricted free agent, doesn’t want to burn any bridges, so he arrived at KeyBank Center on Thursday as a “good will” gesture, reports The Buffalo News. He’ll practice with his teammates, head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed.

“Everyone knows how dedicated he is to his training, and he wanted to continue to build on the gains he made this summer,” Ristolainen’s agent, Mike Liut, wrote in an email to the News. “In the end, this made sense to him, at least in the short term.”

The eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Ristolainen had nine goals and 32 assists in 82 games for the Sabres last season.

“I still trust that we will make that contract happen,” Ristolainen told reporters a couple of weeks ago at the World Cup in Toronto, where he was representing Finland. “I like Buffalo. I want to be there as long as I can and I feel they feel the same way about me. I trust it’s going to be taken care of.”

Related: Rieder’s agent thinks trade from Coyotes is best for both parties