Orpik rejects Penguins' contract proposal as free agency nears

On the same day the Penguins learned they would have more money to spend this offseason, they discovered they still may not have enough to sign bruising defenseman Brooks Orpik.

Orpik, one of 12 Penguins players who will become unrestricted free agents on Tuesday, rejected a contract proposal from the Penguins on Thursday. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the deal was believed to have been a multiyear offer worth roughly $3 million annually, a large increase from the nearly $1.1 million salary Orpik received last season.

Drafted 18th overall in 2000 by the Penguins, Orpik has made it known he would like to return to Pittsburgh, but the 6-foot-2, 219-pound defenseman could garner upwards of $4 million a year in the open market.

Orpik's agent, Lewis Gross, spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and acknowledged that Orpik had declined the Penguins' offer, but did not say whether he felt an agreement could be reached before Tuesday.

"We did receive an offer, which we turned down," Gross told the Post-Gazette. "But we're still talking."

Orpik's decision comes on the heels of Pittsburgh star forwards Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa stating their intent to test free agency as well. It is also expected that veterans Gary Roberts and Kris Beech will depart via free agency.

The NHL announced Tuesday that the salary cap for the 2008-09 season will rise to $56.7 million, a $6.7 million increase from the previous year and more than $17 million higher than the limit during the 2005-06 season that immediately followed the lockout that canceled an entire season.

Pittsburgh is expected to spend close to the limit with starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury qualifying for restricted free agency and centers Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal scheduled to become restricted free agents after the '08-09 season. The Toronto Star reported last week that Malkin had received a multiyear offer worth $12.5 million annually from a team from his native Russia.

Orpik finished with 11 points and was plus-11 with 57 penalty minutes in 78 regular-season games last season. The U.S.-born defenseman had two assists in the playoffs and was minus-3 through four rounds. The Penguins lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals after finishing with the league's second-worst record in '05-06.