Pens' defense welcomes back Orpik, but Letang departs with injury

by: Rob Rossi Updated:

PITTSBURGH —

The Penguins are again down a top-four defenseman — even though Brooks Orpik returned to practice Saturday — because Kris Letang is out with a lower-body injury.

Letang did not practice Saturday with teammates, and he will not take the ice Sunday, coach Dan Bylsma said.

The Penguins are on a weekend trip in West Point, N.Y., for team bonding sessions at the United States Military Academy.

Letang is scheduled for a medical re-evaluation when the Penguins return to Pittsburgh on Monday, Bylsma said.

Letang had practiced Friday upon the club's arrival at the academy.

A Norris Trophy finalist for the first time last season, Letang was the only NHL defenseman to average a point per game.

The Penguins open their regular-season schedule against New Jersey at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.

Bylsma said the plan for that game — and the early part of the season — was to pair Letang with free-agent returnee Rob Scuderi. That would allow Bylsma to leave intact his top shutdown defense pairing of Orpik and Paul Martin, who has returned to the Penguins after attending to a family matter in his native Minnesota.

Orpik (lower body) had not practiced Thursday and Friday after sustaining a minor injury in an exhibition game at Detroit on Wednesday.

The Penguins are currently carrying seven defensemen with contracts that would require waivers clearance for assignment in the AHL. That does not include Simon Despres, who appeared targeted for an AHL assignment because Bylsma has said he wants to carry only seven defensemen and, also, Despres does not need to clear waivers.

NHL rosters must be set at 23 players by Monday, and the Penguins need to shave at least $1 million in space to become salary-cap compliant.

The NHL's cap is set at $64.3 million, and the Penguins generally prefer to stay within $1 million under for potential in-season roster adjustments.

Injuries to Letang and backup goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) complicate and already challenging cap situation for the Penguins. Those players combine ($5.5 million) to absorb about 8.6 percent of the club's cap allotment.

Players can be temporarily removed from a club's cap consideration if placed on the long-term injury (LTI) list, but a player must miss at least 10 games if given that designation.

The uncertainty surrounding recovery time for Letang and Vokoun could impact the Penguins' ability to sign forward Chuck Kobasew, who is currently on a tryout contract that does not count against the cap.

Kobasew has impressed coaches, and he could fill a void on the third line created by winger Matt D'Agostini's injury (lower body). D'Agostini skated on his own Saturday and will again Sunday, Bylsma said.

Kobasew, if signed and on the NHL roster, would count at least $550,000 — the collectively bargained players' minimum salary — against the Penguins' cap.

This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.