On March 2nd, Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford surprised fans by swapping defensemen with Anaheim by trading 23-year old Simon Despres for 31-year old Ben Lovejoy.
Publicly, a good story was told by Rutherford about needing to get more experience on defense and how Lovejoy, since previously playing for the team, has improved on the ice and how Rutherford's lieutenants wanted him back.
Privately, someone in the Penguins organization had more to say about Despres based on Dejan Kovacevic's report in his Friday Insider on March 6th.
Kovacevic wrote, "They don't trust Despres off the ice and, hence, lost trust on it", "And when that inconsistency is something they believe is rooted in a general lack of applying one’s self in life, that’s when it becomes too much to take", and "And no, I will not get specific on this. Sorry. Other than to say the Penguins got sick and tired of betting on his future."
There's been some whispers about these so-called off ice concerns.
No idea if Kovacevic was tossing a hint by wording that last line the way he did but there is another issue being whispered that should remain private as well.
Off the ice problems are nothing new in any sport, much less hockey, athletes are human and will have problems but those are usually addressed by the team by working with the player and his agent.
In a PensBurgh exclusive interview with Despres' agent Chris Daigle, partner with Momentum Hockey, said "I'm surprised. I never got a phone call. That's our job, our role. If it was that big of an issue, why didn't the team call?"
Daigle said "Teams always call us about issues, I don't think there's an issue and no one called me. I know Simon really well, he was happy this year, liked his teammates, and he has good values. He's very serious about his job, he would work out in the gym everyday and on the ice."
Daigle was genuinely concerned about the report and was taken by surprise after talking with him about it, having seen the report for the first time after our initial contact.
He said Despres was "happy in Pittsburgh, had good friends there, and felt part of the family."
As for his thoughts on Despres' development this season, "He was always a good prospect. He had to earn his spot on a good team like Pittsburgh, which is not the same if he started on a team rebuilding for the future, that's why it took him some time. This year, we saw him fitting in and had his seat. He started to understand how to be good on the ice. He's a good puck mover, can be physical, hard to play against being a big guy. He was starting to understand that and know his role and was doing it good."
As for the Penguins, what a failure of a message to be sending about a young man without engaging his agent, should these unsourced allegations be true about part of the reason they decided to trade Despres.
[EDITOR UPDATE: We have reached out to the Penguins communication department asking for a comment, but haven't yet received an answer. We will update this article again with any comment that the team would like to make.]