For months we all knew the Pittsburgh Penguins had too many depth NHL defensemen. They lost Brian Strait on waivers to the New York Islanders last month, and yesterday they cleared a little more space by dealing Ben Lovejoy to the Anaheim Ducks for a 5th round pick in 2014.
The reasons are obvious: Lovejoy was a decent depth guy, but younger guys like Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo have flashed more in games and shown that they can handle NHL ice-time, rendering Lovejoy an excess piece. Further, the Pens are at a 23 man roster limit with Matt Niskanen on injured reserve, and when he returns, a move would have had to be made.
For the Pens, it's probably "get what we could" mode for Lovejoy. The trade market isn't burning up right now, especially for guys who are 6/7/8 on depth charts. Teams seem content to see if a guy will be put on waivers and then claim him for free, rather than trade even a future draft pick. That Pittsburgh was able to get anything for him, instead of losing him for nothing like Strait, is a minor feather in the cap and we can all move on.
For Lovejoy, this trade comes at a great time. He's at a point in his career where he needs to play to create a niche for himself. Lovejoy's a well-liked guy and does a lot of things well, if nothing great. But in Pittsburgh Despres and Bortuzzo have passed him on the depth chart, with prospects Joe Morrow and Brian Dumoulin not far behind...To say nothing of blue-chippers like Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington who soon will be turning pro and give even more competition. Now's definitely a good time to get to a new team and get a fresh chance for Lovejoy.
In accordance with this move, Pittsburgh announced they have re-called defenseman Dylan Reese from the minors. Reese is a Pittsburgh native and has 74 games of NHL experience. He's basically a poor man's Lovejoy, except he just signed this off-season, unlike Lovejoy who the Penguins spent a lot of time and money developing since he signed way back in 2007. Reese is probably going to be the 7th defensemen until Niskanen returns to health, then Reese is ticketed to the minors again, barring an injury.
In the end, unfortunately, the last image for Lovejoy for many Pens fans will be the turnovers and poor positioning he had in last spring's Flyers series, leading to two eventual game-winning goals. It's a shame, but hopefully in his new organization Lovejoy will get the chance to make a better mark.