On the Penguins: The trade of Ben Lovejoy

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That trade that sent Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim for a fifth-round draft choice a few days ago was, on most levels, a standard-issue NHL transaction.

Swapping a depth defenseman with limited NHL experience for a fifth-round draft choice isn't the kind of move that generates headlines, let alone major aftershocks, around the league.

Still, that deal created a couple of interesting points to consider.

• • • •

The most striking, at least initially, was that the Penguins promoted defenseman Dylan Reese from their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre when Lovejoy was dealt.

While the rationale behind that move seemed to become clear the next night, when Kris Letang was held out of a game against Washington because of an unspecified injury, the Penguins actually did not learn that Letang might not play against the Capitals until the day of the game. Which was a day after the trade.

Reese was brought up in the wake of the Lovejoy trade simply because management did not want to risk being down to six healthy defensemen, on the off-chance that one would get injured during the game-day skate or pregame warmups.

Had the Penguins suspected Letang might not be able to play against the Capitals, putting off the Lovejoy trade until Letang was sure to be in the lineup would have been logical, given that Lovejoy had been practicing -- and, occasionally, playing -- with the team for nearly a month.

Although Lovejoy has, to this point in his career, been no more than a third-pairing defenseman at this level, management apparently liked him -- and, for that matter, Brian Strait -- more than it did Reese, since those two were among the nine defensemen brought in for training camp, while Reese was not.

Adding Reese to the NHL roster means that, unless the Penguins suffer another injury significant enough to put the player on injured reserve -- or unless general manager Ray Shero has another deal looming, they will be one over the 23-man roster limit when defenseman Matt Niskanen returns from an ankle injury.

That wouldn't be an issue if the Penguins were willing to send rookie Simon Despres, who is not eligible for waivers, to the American Hockey League, but that's not an option in which management is -- or should be -- interested.

Consequently, when everyone is healthy, the Penguins might be compelled to risk losing someone like Reese or left winger Eric Tangradi to get down to the roster limit mandated by the collective bargaining agreement, although Reese is waiver-exempt until he plays 10 games or is up for 30 days because he cleared earlier.

Also, even though Lovejoy had slipped to eighth on the depth chart, most NHL teams aspire to have 10 defensemen capable of logging solid minutes in the league in case their blue line is beset by a series of injuries or slumps.

Whether clubs feel that having as many as usual isn't necessary this season because there are only 48 games isn't clear, but the Penguins' willingness to part with Lovejoy suggests they're comfortable with the number of NHL-ready defensemen in their organization.

Whether they should be is open to discussion.

The front office evidently is willing to give an unproven, but promising, prospect such as Brian Dumoulin or Joe Morrow a chance to play in the NHL this season if circumstances make that necessary.

It's reasonable to wonder, though, whether Lovejoy might have been more valuable to the Penguins as injury insurance than the draft choice they got for him will be, especially if developments leave them with a personnel shortage on the blue line.

He's Jordan Staal ... but younger.

Shero figured Brandon Sutter would be a capable replacement for Jordan Staal in the middle of the Penguins' third line when he traded Staal to Carolina in June.

Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette, who was with the Hurricanes for part of Sutter's time there, suggested recently that parallels drawn between Sutter and Staal are completely reasonable.

"They're actually, I think, similar players," he said. "They're both big centermen. They're good defensive players, but they have offensive capabilities.

"One [Sutter] is just a little bit younger ... than the other. But they're similar."

The Week Ahead

Today: vs. New Jersey ... These teams should be sick of each other by now, as they prepare for their second meeting of the weekend and the third in nine days.

Wednesday: vs. Ottawa ... Losing Jason Spezza, pictured at left, to a back problem that required surgery has injected real uncertainty into a season that began with great promise for the Senators.

Friday: at Winnipeg ... When the Penguins visited last month, the air temperature was reported to be minus 18 Fahrenheit. Presumably, that warm spell has passed.

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First Published February 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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