PITTSBURGH — Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford entered Monday hoping to bolster his blue line before the NHL trade deadline passed at 3 p.m. and he did that with two separate deals.
He acquired Ian Cole from the St. Louis Blues and brought in former Penguin Ben Lovejoy, acquiring him from the Anaheim Ducks.
“When we looked at our defense, despite the fact that it’s played pretty well at this point, we were concerned about the experience,” Rutherford said. “We were looking to upgrade, add more of a veteran presence.
“We felt to have a good run in the playoffs we needed more experience and that’s why we made these two deals.”
All acquisitions come at a cost and in this case the Penguins sent defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and a 2016 seventh-round draft pick to the Blues for Cole and former first-round draft pick Simon Despres to the Ducks for Lovejoy.
The thinking coming into deadline day was that the Penguins hoped to make themselves tougher to play against, but at first glance these acquisitions might not appear to have done that.
Despres led the Penguins with 184 hits and Bortuzzo ranked fifth with 116. Each player was also willing to drop the gloves as needed and were among the first to get involved when other teams took liberties with teammates.
Rutherford isn’t worried. He feels the players he acquired are more than capable of contributing in the ways the outgoing players did and bring an even more extensive skill set to the table.
“Both guys we got are capable hitters,” Rutherford said. “Clearly, the two guys we traded were more aggressive on the fighting side than the two guys we got back. But as we go along, I don’t believe down the stretch in the regular season there will be that many games, maybe a few, that we’ll need that. We’ll have to do it as a team unit, team toughness. But when you get to the playoffs it’s not as useful.”
Cole, 26, was drafted in the first round in 2010 and is skating in just his second full NHL season. He’s played in 54 games with the Blues this season, notching nine points (4G-5A) and posting a plus-16. His plus-16 ranks second on the team behind Paul Martin (+20) among Penguins players.
“He brings good depth to our blue line,” Rutherford said. “He’s had a very good year this year and we hope that continues here.”
Lovejoy, who has 11 points (one goal) in 40 games for the Ducks this season, is a player that most of the front office was very familiar with, as Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin were with the team during his previous tenure with the club.
“We had a very, very long meeting this morning and this afternoon (about Lovejoy),” Rutherford said. “Most of (the front office) were here when Ben was here before. He was a young guy still feeling his way in the league. Since he’s gone to Anaheim he’s really blossomed. He’s really developed into a solid, consistent defender. Our guys felt very strong about reacquiring this player.”
Cole for Bortuzzo seemed to upgrade the defensive core and give the team a different look, but many around the league seemed to question the re-acquisition of Lovejoy, especially at the expense for a former first round pick in Despres.
Rutherford said that his management team didn’t find it easy to part with Despres, but that his play had dropped off a bit since the beginning of the season. There were inconsistencies that popped up and they felt that Lovejoy would be a better option heading into the playoffs.
He also added that with Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin all being part of the organization, there would come a time where they just wouldn’t have room for all of them, which gave them the flexibility to move the 23-year-old.
The deals might not have made the biggest splash of the day, but the Penguins did most of their dealing earlier in the season acquiring David Perron, Max Lapierre and Daniel Winnik via trade over the past few months.
Even with the moves that rivals in New York, Washington and Montreal made, Rutherford is confident that his team is built for postseason success.
“The Penguins have as good a chance as any team in the Eastern Conference,” Rutherford said. “As the year went a long we got stronger and stronger with the additions that we’ve made and all the adversity that we had to deal with. We feel we’ve strengthened our defense after going through the process of the forwards, getting more balance up front. So this is our team.”
The New (OLD) Guys:
Ian Cole, D — Cole, 6-feet-1, 219 pounds, was drafted in the first round in 2010. He is capable of playing a shutdown role, has good size and strength and is known to play a physical style. He also has some puck-moving skills and isn’t easy to play against. He has blocked 131 shots and collected 66 hits over the past two seasons.
Ben Lovejoy, D — Lovejoy, 6-feet-1, 206 pounds, enters his second stint with the Penguins a more mature player and one that is more comfortable in his own skin. Spending most of the past two seasons on the Ducks' top defensive pairing with Cam Fowler has helped him get more comfortable possessing and moving the puck. He ranked sixth on the Ducks last season with a plus-21 rating.