The Character Assassination of Brooks Orpik

“Boston’s Thornton chasing down Pittsburgh’s Orpik, a noted instigator who wouldn’t fight this time, and after Orpik had fallen to the ice, pummelling him with two solid punches. Just revolting. Orpik was immobilized and taken off the ice on a stretcher.” – SI’s Peter King in MMQB

After Brooks Orpik, now playing in his 11th year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, left the TD Garden ice on a stretcher as a result of an uncalled for attack-from-behind from “noted” fighter Shawn Thornton, the debate barely waited until the first intermission to start.  Was it Orpik’s fault? “If he had fought Thornton, it wouldn’t have happened” clamored the NESN crew during the first intermission.  “Orpik’s dirty style of play caused this,” rang out across twitter.

The problem with most of these generalizations is that few know Brooks Orpik beyond the occasional earth-shattering hit that he’ll lay on opponents.  They know the highlight-reel Orpik and very little more.

The reality is that Brooks Orpik is not a fighter.  He is not by any means a “noted instigator” or “known agitator.”  There’s a reason Orpik was included in the 2010 roster of the US Olympic team and it has nothing to do with him agitating or instigating anything.  He’s a defensive defenseman who checks opponents hard.  I fail to see where that has become a problem in today’s game.

[See Also: Throw the Book at Shawn Thornton]

Orpik as a Fighter?

(Icon SMI)

(Icon SMI)

One of the largest misconceptions about what happened in the aftermath of the incident in Boston was that many wondered why Brooks Orpik, who is clearly a physical player wouldn’t just fight Shawn Thornton, another physical player.

Well, let’s start by looking at the obvious.  That would’ve been akin to a suicide mission for Orpik, with his 12 career fights in 662 career NHL games, against Shawn Thornton, who has 119 career fights in a total of 522 games in the NHL.

Let’s look at it this way:

On average, Brooks Orpik tallies 1 fight every 55 games.
On average, Shawn Thornton tallies 1 fight every 4 games.

While critics may be attacking Orpik’s own manhood, I doubt there are many who believe that would’ve been an intelligent move for anyone.  Just as many condoned Ray Emery, for attacking Braden Holtby in a recently Flyers-Caps tilt, it makes little sense to say that Orpik should’ve just “manned up” and fought Thornton.

If that doesn’t say enough about Orpik’s penchant, or lack thereof for fighting, maybe this will.  Here is a list of Bruins with more fights in the last five years than Brooks Orpik has in his entire career:

  • Jarome Iginla (17)
  • Milan Lucic (24)
  • Gregory Campbell (36)
  • Shawn Thornton (68)
  • Adam McQuaid (30)

And here’s the list of Penguins who have more fights in the last five years than Brooks Orpik in his entire career:

  • Deryk Engelland (34)
  • Tanner Glass (32)
  • Craig Adams (18)

There are two things that are clear from those numbers; one team clearly has an advantage when it comes to experience throwing down and at no point should it be considered a downgrade to anyone’s manhood, when they refuse to fight someone, especially if they are not known as a fighter.

Orpik as a Pest?

250px-AveryruleMatt Cooke, Patrick Kaleta, Steve Ott, and Brad Marchand are well-known as instigators and pests throughout the league.  Brooks Orpik is not.  The former pest-extraordinaire Sean Avery is the definition of what a pest is.

Let’s start by looking at the definition of a pest from Wikipedia:

In ice hockey, a pest is a player who attempts to antagonize opponent players either by physical play or verbal incitation.  Pests employ legal, illegal, or borderline tactics to accomplish their goals. Some common tactics include trash talk or slashing and hooking while referees are not looking. They may employ the tactic of goading opponents into a fight but then backing off in order to draw a penalty against them.

Anyone who has seen Brooks Orpik play his entire career in Pittsburgh, knows that the above description of a pest, comes nowhere near the way that Orpik plays the game.  Brooks Orpik has one suspension in his entire NHL career.  One, for 3 games, for a vicious boarding of Hurricanes Erik Cole, in 2006, only 7 years ago.

So why the mischaracterization of Orpik as a cheap and dirty player by fans, the media, and critics?

Because it’s now become commonplace in the NHL to define a hard hit as a cheap shot, which needs defended against by a fight.

This is Orpik, below, making 4 hard hits in 15 seconds, in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final game against the Red Wings.  None of the hits were dirty, cheap, or borderline.

At the same time, in Detroit, Niklas Kronwall is very well-known for dishing out devastating hits to opponents, usually considered borderline, but per Hockeyfights.com has a total of 0 career fights.  While people have called out Kronwall for not responding to some of his hits, it hasn’t led to him being labeled a pest.

The truth is that Orpik is a world-class player, an Olympic silver-medalist, and a leader in the Penguins’ locker-room.

I’ll end with this nugget from Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“Asked 15 Pens last year if fighting should be banned from hockey. Only one said yes: Brooks Orpik. Doesn’t want to be a vegetable someday.”

Nick Vucic
Outside of working in politics, Nick also loves watching hockey at all levels. In addition to writing about the Nashville Predators for The Hockey Writers, Nick also writes for Faceoff Factor about his favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nick Vucic
Rask just went full tumbleweed there. - 2 days ago
Nick Vucic

19 Comments

  1. Orpik was a coward plain and simple. He was a disgrace and embarrassment to we penguin fans. If you cant fight a lick, then don’t play on the edge. And coaches need to make the team tougher instead of having charmin soft pathetic joke of a team that was the 2013 penguins.

  2. The problem is that you’re listening to Boston media outlets. You might as well have Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting cast a game instead of Edwards or Brickley.

  3. Tracy McFarland says:

    How is everyone saying Brooks Orpik is a “dirty player” and a known instigator? I have been watching Brooks his entire NHL career, and though he may hit hard and play tough, there is Absolutely Nothing dirty about his play. He is one of the , if not the best and cleanest defensive men in the NHL! Dirty defensive players do not win their teams Defensive Player of the year awards , they spend to much time in the Penalty Box! For those of you who say he is a dirty player, try to actually watch him play. He is a clean hitter, hard player and a Great hockey player!

      • Tracy McFarland says:

        He has been playing for 10 yrs and you come back at me with 1 hit! name one player that doesn’t do something dirty on the ice throughout his entire career and I will kiss your ass. But to say he is repeatedly dirty and an instigator is absurd!!

        • I heard Orpik never showers…

        • I am not saying he is repeatedly dirty or even known as a dirty player so much as I am saying he plays on the edge. I mentioned that I have seen him make numerous plays “dirty/dangerous” plays throughout the years of watching him play against the Islanders. It is a result of him playing on the edge and playing hard and going for big hits. I will revise to say that he is not a “dirty” player but one who plays on the edge and looks to make big hits. Trust me, I would take Orpik on my team in a heartbeat. I would take 5 Orpiks in fact. My point is that if you are a player in Orpik’s mold and you play on the edge you are bound to cross the line sometimes and hurt opposing players. In order to mitigate that the NHL has a self-policing system. More and more guys are not respecting that system which is why we see more injuries from borderline hits (it seems like) and why the league has tried to step in with their own Colin Campbell / Shannahan justice system. I don’t like it. Guys like Orpik need to back up their actions when they go over the line by answering the bell. If that’s the type of player you need to be to play in this league then have some damned honor about and be prepared to back up your actions. To me, it shows a lack of respect to the game and opponent. I don’t think Penguins fans in general “get it” because you’ve been watching this behavior for a while now which is only re-enforced by your homer TV announcers and hypocrite owner.

        • Tracy McFarland says:

          That is ridiculous! So if you are a hard hitter and play on the edge you must fight to defend your actions. That is as much a part of hockey as fighting. You should not have to fight though to justify playing your hardest. He is a defensive player in the NHL not a heavyweight boxer. He gets paid to hit, and defend the puck, not fight. If a player chooses not to fight, that is on them. Maybe they will lose a bit of respect for it, but by no means should a player be forced to do it. If you don’t want to get hit by a rough defensive player , then get better at skating out of the way or something. But to have to fight to defend being good at your job is ridiculous. In that case why don’t players like Ovechkin or Crosby have to fight to defend making other players look like idiots for skating right through them to the net and making the goalie look like he isn’t even there. They should all fight to defend their actions right. You have your fighters and you don’t, you have your scorers and you don’t. They all have a job to do and not one of them needs to be defended with a fight for doing it right! As for the hypocrite, that is an entirely different argument that I am not getting into now!

        • there are plenty of defensemen who are good at their job but don’t need to play on the edge as orpik does. as a consequence of the way orpik plays, sometimes he injures his opponent (not on purpose we suppose) hence, he “plays on the edge”. that is part of what makes him effective as a player. I am not saying he has to defend his actions and fight after every hit he makes. But, after he knocks out or seriously injures a player with a hit he should have some honor if the guys teammate takes him to task. He’s a big guy when loui Ericckson has his head down and before he even receives the puck but not so big when someone challenges him toe to toe. reminds me of phaneuf. another guy that likes to play on the edge but is never around when the beef cooks. and by the way, Orpik could have been “good at doing his job” by just stepping up and intercepting the pass and maybe creating a scoring opportunity. Instead, he decided he should “send a message” by sending errickson to the dark room. yes, maybe he’s good at his job but that doesn’t mean he’s not a coward with no honor.

    • LOL….you don’t watch how Orpik lines up skaters cycling center ice who are looking the other way and then runs them? If you watch his hit on loui Eriksson he did the same thing Loui was looking the other way and Orpik was already taking strides to wards him. A cheep shot is a cheep shot anyway you look at it . Orpic gets 3 games for almost breaking Erik Cole’s neck , that wasn’t a cheep shot …give me a break.

  4. The Rangers have Brian Boyle, six-foot-seven but can’t fight a lick. But with the Rangers not having much toughness, in successive games he permitted himself to be pummelled into paste by Chara and then Bieska for the good of the team. He survived to non-fight another day. There’s another question which applies to Orpik too. Why don’t they go to a gym and learn how to throw a right cross and a left hook? My daughter was being bullied at school one time and I showed her the basics in a few days. She beat the hell out of the next girl who attacked her and was never bullied again.

    • Because fighting in hockey is completely different than a street fight. It’s a particular talent/skill. You either have it or you don’t. Orpik isn’t a fighter, along with many of players of his stature in the league.

  5. Orpik plays on the edge. And when you play on the edge you are going to cross the line at times. I have seen him make numerous dirty/dangerous plays. When that happens and you refuse to honorably back your actions that shows disrespect to your opponent and the game. The reason the NHL has the issues it does with high profile injuries and such is not b/c of the Thornton’s of the world but because of guys who run around making dangerous plays without being kept in check or having to answer to anybody. It is a question of respect and honor, which seems to be missing more and more from today’s game.

    • Justin – I would like if you could elaborate on these numerous dirty/dangerous plays Orpik has been involved in. Orpik has been suspended once, 2006 for a very bad hit on Erik Cole…That was the worst play I’ve ever seen him involved in. Orpik has fought a total of 13 times (3 being preseason) and not once in the regular season since 08-09. He also has the greatest 15 seconds of hits in the NHL during the 2008 Stanley Cup final. Orpik is just like Kronwall (never suspended) they lay out big clean hits and players take exception to their clean hits.

    • Justin you are just making things up. I have watched his entire career and there has been the Cole hit and a few years ago tortarella called him out about a knee to knee hit that was not called a penalty. 2 time in 11 years. he does not run around. he picks his spots and many times they are in open ice. want to talk about dirty players that run around and take dirty shots and never respons I give you Brad Marchand. the little ball of hate is the definition of a RAT

      • As an Isles fan I’ve watched him from a different standpoint. I think he plays on the edge. I don’t put him in the class of the pests like Marchand and certainly not Kaleta or old Cooke. I put him in the class of a Phaneuf. A very good Dman who picks his spots. I am just saying that when those spots are picked sometimes they cross the line or are borderline. I’ve seen it against the isles a few times. Not saying they are suspension worthy but PLENTY of borderline plays that need to be policed by the players themselves. I think when you are that type of player – making plays that can seriously injure an opponent if something goees awry – you need to back up your deeds and answer the bell if the other team takes you to task. It is called honor. And too many players think there are no repercussions to “picking their spots”. it’s not the way hockey was played in the past. And, in the past, there were far less injuries…that is b/c there was an element of respect between opponents once they stepped on the ice that has been diminished imo nowadays (also, the speed of the games is faster which is also a variable). if you are going to head hunt then back it up. Guys like Orpik (at least in this particular situation) want to have their cake and eat it too and that leads to the stuff we saw with Thornton – it should never come to that and I am not apologizing for Thornton in the least – it is inexcusable and he will get his suspension – but I am not surprised by what transpired. There are too many guys in the league that want to live outside of the time tested rules that are supposed to exist between opponents once they step on the ice. And by the way, the Penguins are exhibit A when it comes to that. They have been doing it for years and then crying about it when they get their comeuppance.

        • How much shit can you possibly make up? First off a player with their head down is fair game and is going to get thumped. Therefore, Eriksson ( a known concussion case) shouldn’t have had his head down. The puck takes a weird bounce off the half wall and now not only is his head down but he turns it 180 degrees the other way and as soon as he hits the puck- by swiping his stick at it- he gets Orpik’s shoulder to his upper chest/jaw area. WOW IS THAT DIRTY!!! Give me a break ya SISSY!! Then the kicker is Orpik a top 4 defenseman whose team is missing 2/4 top dmen should fight a known goon. This way his team can be without 3/4 top defensemen for maybe 5min maybe the rest of the game ( roughly 56 min) or maybe weeks. No chance. Hockey is turning into a pussy league with every big hit having to be answered with a fight. In the past Orpik would have been getting drilled every chance they got to hit him; that’s how hockey is played. I love how you claim Orpik plays ” on the edge” bc he’s a hitter. Playing on the edge means he’s known to be dirty and that’s the furthest from the truth. Orpik is one of the top hitters in the NHL and over 11 seasons that equates to somewhere around 1,000 hits in his career. A player who plays on the edge would have been suspended more than once in that time frame, no? You’re lost when trying to justify anything and the fact that you’re 1 of 10 Isles fans shows that you’re biased. 30 years of watching hockey I could go on with names like Acton,Cicarelli, Kaspariatis, Barnaby, McSorley, Simon, Marchment, Downie, Cooke, Marchand etc.. Those are players who play/played on the edge. BTW all announcers have some homer in them. However,the Pens announcers aren’t even close to being full blown homers. Homers don’t pay homage to the other team EVER. Errey and Steigerwald often do that and the Pens radio duo of Lange/Bourque are even better at it. Your Isles on the other hand and MSG in general is beyond pathetic especially when you consider they broadcast to 10 million. Pathetic to the point of I won’t watch Rangers, Devils, or Islanders on Center Ice when they’re aired on MSG. I’ll watch from the other teams feed bc not only is the announcing pathetic, but the pre/post shows are almost laughable. That’s saying something bc Edwards/Brickley on NESN are awful, but to Edwards credit he kinda knows the game when he wants to act civilized.

    • “I have seen him make numerous dirty/dangerous plays.”

      Only if you’re listening to the Bruins announcers. With your eyes closed.

      • Ha! Bruins and Pens are neck and neck in the homer department. Thank the hockey lord I don’t have to listen to either of them with any frequency.

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