Rutherford, Penguins on the hunt for defenseman as trade deadline looms
February 26, 2016 12:00 AM
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
With Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy out indefinitely with an unspecified injury, the team will be looking for a replacement before the trade deadline.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jim Rutherford doesn’t have a lot of salary-cap space to work with.
He doesn’t have an abundance of high-quality assets to offer, either.
But the Penguins general manager does have a clear objective between now and the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. Monday: He wants to add a defenseman.
That became his top priority Saturday, when Ben Lovejoy was sidelined indefinitely with an unspecified injury, creating a significant hole on the blue line.
“With the injury to Lovejoy, that makes it a little more important to see if we can add a defenseman, even if it’s only a depth defenseman, as a little more insurance,” Rutherford said Thursday.
He was quick to note that it is more of a seller’s market than usual as this deadline approaches, particularly for the commodity he is seeking.
“The number of defensemen out there is less than the number of teams looking for [one],” Rutherford said.
That’s a formula for driving up prices, which is at least part of the reason Rutherford volunteered that he might let this deadline pass without making a move, even though he rarely is passive at this time of the season.
Most deals made near the deadline involve “rentals,” guys who are a few months from unrestricted free agency.
Although the Penguins are investigating possible trades for such players, Rutherford said he also is receptive to making a “hockey trade” — one designed to have an impact that lasts more than a few weeks or months and doesn’t necessarily involve players with expiring contracts.
So far, there have been no negotiations for such a swap, Rutherford said.
He added that the Penguins could “stretch” their salary-cap space to as much as $2 million, depending on how they handle player movements, which should be sufficient to cover the acquisitions they’re contemplating.
“The couple of players we’re talking about, I believe it is,” Rutherford said.
Although Lovejoy’s injury is the primary reason the Penguins have zeroed in on defensemen over the past few days, it’s not the only one.
Picking up a forward has lost urgency not only because centers Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino are expected to return from significant injuries when Winnipeg visits Consol Energy Center at 3:08 p.m. Saturday, but also because the young centers and wingers brought up from Wilkes-Barre have performed so well on the third and fourth lines that Rutherford has no qualms about continuing to rely on them.
“With what we’ve seen over the last little while and how well our younger [forwards] have done, there’s really not much of a focus on [acquiring] forwards,” he said.
While Rutherford and his staff do final evaluations on players in whom they might be interested — “We still have our guys out there taking that last look at players, making sure our ratings are up to date,” he said — players already on the payroll are beginning to wonder what the depth chart will look like by Monday afternoon, although they say it hasn’t been a major topic of conversation in the locker room.
“We haven’t really talked about it,” center Kevin Porter said. “No one knows what’s going to happen.
“I’ve seen some crazy things happen, and I’ve seen no moves at all. You just kind of have to wait and see.”
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NOTES — The Penguins assigned center Oskar Sundqvist and defenseman Steve Oleksy to Wilkes-Barre. … The Penguins, who had a scheduled day off Thursday, are supposed to work out at 11 a.m. today at their practice facility in Cranberry.
Dave Molinari: dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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