You don’t have to be a hockey expert to realize that Brooks Orpik does not fit the mold of today’s NHL. The league is becoming younger and faster and those are two words that certainly do not describe the 37-year old defenseman.
But this is not news to Orpik.
“I think the most important thing is you have to realize that you have to make adjustments to your game,” Orpik told NBC Sports Washington on Tuesday. “If you don't, then you're probably not going to be playing much longer.”
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Orpik has always been a physical, stay at home defenseman. Puck handling and speed are not his strength and for most of his career, that was fine. But now the league is moving in a new direction and it threatens to leave him behind. There were several points in the playoffs in which it looked like he was exposed by the speed of the Pittsburgh Penguins. There were also moments throughout he season in which Orpik would get caught pinching in the neutral zone and did not have the wheels to recover.
In his time in Washington, Orpik has gone from one of the team’s top defensemen to a projected third-pairing player heading into this season. Part of that has to do with his age, but the perceived decline was accelerated by his style of play.
That was something Orpik had to change.
Orpik joined Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara to work with a power skating trainer in the summer. The towering Bruins defenseman is 40 and appears less and less mobile with every passing year making his situation similar to that of Orpik’s.
For Orpik, the training proved to be very different from what he is used to.
“It’s something that I think that was probably crucial to kind of adjusting to the way the game is evolving and changing and doing some stuff that probably felt a little uncomfortable,” Orpik said. “But it was stuff that was probably necessary to work on and improve on just in terms of how the game's evolving. Even if the game wasn't evolving, I think just as you get older you've got to make adjustments to how you train skating wise and off the ice.”
Specifically, the training emphasized speed and skating over strength.
“Strength you don't really lose," Orpik said. "Obviously maintaining or trying to improve speed is more crucial than trying to get a little bit stronger in the gym.”
That training will be put to the test as Orpik looks poised to start the season in the top four playing alongside John Carlson. Orpik was projected to be on the third pairing, but with none of the team's prospects excelling in training camp to a large degree, finding a dependable partner for Carlson has proven difficult. The two began practicing together on Saturday and Barry Trotz made it known it was not just a temporary move.
When asked Saturday if he’s considering that pair to start the season, Trotz said, “Yes, we are. We are considering that, especially with the number of road games that we have. It could help restart [Carlson]. They were a terrific complement together a couple of years ago, so we’re just rewinding the clock a little bit, if you will.”
Whether Orpik’s summer training will allow him to personally “rewind the clock” remains to be seen.