Rumor around Pittsburgh after the Daniel Winnik deal last week was that General Manager Jim Rutherford was done making deals, but would keep the phone on during Monday’s Trade Deadline day. As always, “never say never.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins set out to address defensive depth if possible. In two separate moves, one with a bit of controversy, Rutherford bolstered the defensive depth for this team heading into the playoffs.
Deal 1: Ian Cole
After a quiet morning with very little rumblings, the Penguins acquired defenseman Ian Cole from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Robert Bortuzzo and a 2016 seventh-round pick. Cole, 26, is in the final year of a two-year deal and is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Cole has nine points (4G, 5A) on the season and is a plus-16, which ranks second behind only Paul Martin in terms of Penguins’ defensemen.
Bortuzzo, who has spent the better portion of the last five years in the organization, heads to St. Louis as an insurance policy in case recently acquired Zbynek Michalek cannot suit up right away. In his Pittsburgh career, Bortuzzo scored four goals along with 16 assists and was a minus-5 in 114 career NHL games.
Ian Cole will be an upgrade over Robert Bortuzzo, there is no questioning that. While the Penguins lose a fiesty, aggressive defenseman in Bortuzzo, he was a liability on the back-end. Cole is a better skater, can make a solid first pass out of the zone and fits well in the bottom pairing. He adds more offensively and hopefully a change of scenery from St. Louis will further open up his game and be a vital player for the Penguins down the stretch.
Deal 2: Ben Lovejoy
This move is a bit of a head scratcher. The Penguins, in the final minutes of the Trade Deadline, reacquired former defenseman Ben Lovejoy in a straight up trade for Simon Despres. Lovejoy, 31, has 11 points on the season and is a plus-3 in 40 games with Anaheim. Lovejoy was with the Pittsburgh organization from 2008-2013 and suited up in 98 NHL games. He was traded for a fifth-round pick in February of 2013.
Simon Despres was the Penguins 2009 first-round pick (30th overall) and posted 33 points (5G, 28A) in 144 NHL games. The 23-year-old was a plus-27 in his career with Pittsburgh and was having by far his best year to date with the Penguins. The physical, hard-hitting defenseman was paired with Rob Scuderi a majority of the season and looked like a solid pairing for the Penguins moving forward.
Initially, I must say, I was personally upset. I had been a long-time fan of Despres and was ecstatic for his great play this season. The trade was a bit shocking, to be honest. Taking my personal thoughts on Despres out of the equation, and after time has passed; the deal makes sense.
Lovejoy is a right-handed shooting defenseman who, at the time of his first go-round with Pittsburgh, was not ready to be a regular in the line up. With his years in Anaheim, Lovejoy matured playing alongside Cam Fowler and company and evolved into what the Penguins originally hoped he would be. Bringing him back allows the Penguins several different options in defensive pairings.
It’s a very difficult deal to gauge, as are all deals once they are made. Despres provided a hard-hitting, physical, edgy game that no other Penguin defenseman brings to the table currently. Lovejoy is a bit more finesse, but can responsibly log top four minutes if called upon.
Needless to say, many Pittsburgh faithful are not happy with this deal…for now.
The Penguins went out and did what they wanted to do for the deadline; stock up defensively. While they lost aggressive, hard-nosed defenseman in Bortuzzo and Despres, the Penguins added upgrades in terms of actually playing defense with Cole and Lovejoy.
General Manager Jim Rutherford has set out on a mission. The mission is to win now and with the most recent additions of Daniel Winnik, Ian Cole, and Ben Lovejoy, it is very hard to argue losing three draft picks, Zach Sill, Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres.
On paper, I believe the Penguins did win at what they were trying to accomplish. If the moves translate on the ice, even better, but Rutherford has a plan. He’s executed his plan. Now it falls on the players to capitalize on their opportunities and ultimately win.