PENGUINS TRADE DEADLINE ANALYSIS
The Pittsburgh Penguins trading Simon Despres didn’t catch those around the league by surprise, as the Penguins have had Despres in play since January, but the Penguins moving Despres for Ben Lovejoy straight up sure did.
“I had to check my phone twice,” a former NHL assistant coach said of learning about the trade. “Certainly some warts in Simon’s game [but] he’s a thoroughbred out there. That one could backfire on them.”
The Penguins began to sour on Despres again over the last couple months and his performance vs the Nashville Predators in early February was the nail in the coffin, team sources say.
The Penguins did not believe Despres could be trusted to fill a top-4 role to replace Olli Maatta. Despres hockey IQ has always come into question from coaches and Penguin management felt he was a reckless hitter, despite his physicality, size and strength.
That said, the Penguins traded a 23 year old player with a first round pedigree who was at cost control for a 31 year old defenseman they previously traded for a fifth round pick who has limited upside and put together one really good year in 2013-2014 and regressed backwards this season.
The Penguins felt comfortable enough in moving Despres without any long-term assets in return because of the depth in their system with Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin waiting in the wings. However, both are prospects and scouts have serious questions whether Dumoulin’s upside is anything more than a No. 6 defenseman.
The team feels Harrington is a potential long-term replacement for Paul Martin and can be a minutes eater but Harrington proved this season he’s not ready just yet.
HOW DID THE LOVEJOY DEAL COME ABOUT?
The Penguins seeking a right handed defenseman who could play a top-4 role when needed, was among the Penguins priorities in recent weeks. They pursued a true No. 4 defenseman in Cody Franson but the Leafs were set on acquiring a first round pick that the Penguins didn’t have. The team also looked into Jeff Petry and Marek Zidlicky, but a lack of cap space kept the Penguins from moving on a deal for either.
The trade for Lovejoy came about because of the Ducks pursuit of James Wisniewski who they ended up finalizing a deal for this afternoon. Pittsburgh and Anaheim had held discussions on other trade scenario’s in recent weeks and Anaheim knowing Pittsburgh was seeking a right handed defenseman, reached out to Pittsburgh last night informing them Ben Lovejoy was potentially in play, sources say.
The left overs from the Shero regime had their hand in this deal.
“Our guys felt very strongly about reacquiring this player,” GM Jim Rutherford said.
After meetings this morning and other targets off the board, the two sides moved quickly to put the trade together but couldn’t send the trade into the league until the Ducks were certain a deal was completed for Wisniewski.
The Ducks in a sense replaced Ben Lovejoy with James Wisniewski, a far superior player who is a true No. 4 defenseman, and were able to turn Lovejoy into Simon Despres. It was a good day for them.
IS THE PENGUINS BLUELINE BETTER Today Than Yesterday?
“Reason for these trades is when we looked at our defense, we were concerned about the inexperience and we’re looking to upgrade a bit from a veteran presence,” GM Jim Rutherford said today.
“Feel we have strengthen our defense,” Rutherford added.
On Ben Lovejoy:
“Since Ben Lovejoy has left here, he gained great experience in Anaheim and has played extremely well. That will continue when he comes back to Pittsburgh.”
Lovejoy’s play this season has dropped back to a No. 6 type defenseman level, observers say, but the Penguins feel his game has progressed in recent years where he’s capable to play a top-4 role.
Like Lovejoy, the Ian Cole trade is said to have also come out of the blue and the Blues trade for Zbynek Michalek led to the completion of this deal. Blues GM Doug Armstrong and Jim Rutherford have a good working relationship and Gary Agnew’s familiarity with Cole also played a factor in the deal.
Similar to the Goc/Lapierre trade, the Bortuzzo/Cole trade is one where both teams were looking for a different type of defenseman. The Penguins did not envision Bortuzzo being a regular next season and the Blues are said to have felt Cole’s upside was limited to a third pairing defenseman.
“Ian Cole, he’s been in the league and has some good experience,” Rutherford said. “Has played extremely well this year……He brings good depth to our blueline. He’s had a very good year and we hope that continues.”
Cole has appeared in 2 career playoff games, Bortuzzo 8.
Rutherford noted the Penguins have lost some size and aggressiveness from a “fighting” standpoint, but the Penguins feel Cole, Lovejoy can both provide physicality in a good way where neither goes out of their way to make reckless hits and take themselves out of position like Despres and Bortuzzo sometimes do.
“Both guys we got are capable hitters,” Rutherford said.
Throwing out the long-term ramifications of dealing Despres, is the Penguins blue line better today than it was yesterday?
Looking at this group, they project to still have issues in a seven game series against a team with size that can play heavy down low and the Penguins didn’t improve much in the transition game, though, marginally with the addition of Cole over Bortuzzo. However, there’s no guarantees Cole will even be a regular in the lineup with Derrick Pouliot’s emergence.
Right now the Penguins have Martin, Letang, Ehrhoff and three 6’s (#6 Defensemen). They didn’t believe Despres was that guy but neither is Lovejoy or Cole, no matter how good they feel about Lovejoy being able to play that role.
“We lost Orpik and Niskanen, those were two players we could not fit within our cap,” Rutherford said.
“We just felt to have a good run in the playoffs we needed experience.”
— Rutherford on Penguins competing for a Stanley Cup: “Oh yeah. The Penguins have as good as chance as anyone in Eastern Conference. We got stronger, stronger with the additions we’ve made. Where we sit in standings shows type of team we have”
— Rutherford on whether Christian Ehrhoff injury concerns played into acquisitions for Lovejoy, Cole. “No, we’re comfortable where Christian is at.”
— Beau Bennett drew little interest around the league. A source said the Penguins received zero calls on him today.