Before I dive right in to the subject of the alternate captains, there is a lot of “new” stuff going on right now. The “new” look Pens are about to start a “new” season in a brand “new” arena. So, it seems like a good time for me to become the “new” kid on the block around here. I am looking forward to a great season and sharing my views as well as hearing yours. Since I’m just getting started, throw any suggestions that you have my way.
OK, so on to some real news from today. Coach Dan Bylsma has been saying for days that he had made his decision as to who would serve as the “new” (I’m done with the theme, I swear!) alternate captain following the departure of Sergei Gonchar this summer. He decided to let us all sit around and ponder the question for a few days as we thought of all of the players who have worn the “A” for any period of time over the past couple of years or listened intently to any reports of players showing any leadership initiative. Finally, we learned today that Brooks Orpik and Jordan Staal will share the role of the second alternate captain, joining Sidney Crosby as captain and Evgeni Malkin as alternate captain. Orpik and Staal will rotate between home and away games with Orpik wearing the “A” full-time until Staal’s return.
I don’t think that the naming of Orpik came as a surprise to many. I have seen him listed as the “frontrunner” ever since Gonchar left in July. With good reason. Brooks has worn the “A” before and it also seemed like a good fit to replace a veteran defenseman with another veteran defenseman. And, when I say veteran, I mean it. With the departures of Gonchar, Fedetenko, and Guerin, Orpik is in the older half of the team…at the ripe old age of 30. More notably, he is the longest tenured Penguin on the team. Drafted in 2000, Brooks joined the WBS Penguins in 2001 and played his first few games in Pittsburgh during the 2002-2003 season. Most importantly though, we often hear of Orpik’s good leadership skills both on and off the ice, both vocal and by example. He doesn’t seem to be afraid to step in and take charge of a situation or offer an opinion. And, if you want commitment, how is signing for less than market value or playing half a season with a sports hernia? What I also really like about Orpik is his brutal honesty. During the latter part of last season and the playoffs everyone seemed to be repeating the company line that the team was playing well and just needed to find that magic switch to reach the next level. Brooks Orpik told us what most of us had already realized, that the team was not playing as well as it could and that it could play better and that everyone needed to step up. I love the balance of this with Sid’s polished answers (not taking anything away from Sid who handles the captaincy with the maturity and grace that it requires). Of course, most Pittsburgh fans would gladly sum up Orpik’s credentials in two words: The Shift.
The decision to rotate the “A” between Orpik and Jordan Staal was a little more perplexing to me. Quite honestly, I feel as if Orpik has earned the right to fully own the honor at least for a little while and I like always having the veteran (that’s not the right word given the youth of this team, but you get the point) leadership presence. But, also, Staal has just never struck me as someone who stood out as a leader. Of course, the same could be said of Malkin. Neither is the sort of natural leader that we see in Sid. Truth be told though, none of us knows what goes on in the locker room and maybe this is another case of leading by example. Maybe this is also another way to boost a core player’s confidence and increase their role with the team. I guess I just feel that Staal’s time would come if that was in the cards for him, especially with him missing a fair amount of time this season because of injury. I would like to see him focus completely on getting back his game when he returns and then taking it to the next level without the added pressure of leadership in what could already be a difficult season for him simply because of his setback. I’m not in any way doubting Jordan’s ability to fill the role at some point, I was just a little surprised. Obviously though, Bylsma and Shero saw something that led them to the decision that they made. And, hey, they haven’t given us much reason to question them thus far, so I’ll go with whatever they think is best.
Here’s to a great season! LET’S GO PENS!