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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.”

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

Now he knows.

“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

RTV Slovenia has the story here.

The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win

Zubrus in, Nieto likely out for Sharks in Stanley Cup Final opener

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Dainius Zubrus #9 of the San Jose Sharks skates against Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Matt Nieto is healthy, and ready to go.

But it doesn’t look like he’ll go tonight.

The San Jose Sharks are unlikely to make any lineup changes for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh — at Monday’s optional morning skate, Nieto stayed out late with the extras while the guy he’d (presumably) replace in the lineup, Dainius Zubrus, told NHL.com he was in.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wouldn’t reveal any lineup decisions during his morning media availability, instead talking up both Nieto (for his speed) and Zubrus (for his “heavy” game), adding he liked the versatility the two give the club on a night-by-night basis.

Nieto suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of the Nashville series, and missed all of the Western Conference Final.

Prior to getting hurt, he had three points in 11 games — this after a regular season in which he scored eight goals and 17 points in 67 games.