Instead of adding to their blueline, the Pittsburgh Penguins re-arranged the chairs at the 2015 NHL trade deadline. They moved out Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres in separate trades, to bring back Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy .
"When we looked at our defense, despite the fact that it’s played pretty well at this point, we were concerned about the experience," Pens GM Jim Rutherford said. "We were looking to upgrade, add more of a veteran presence."
To that end, mission accomplished. Cole and Lovejoy have 415 career NHL games between them, Bortuzzo and Despres only have 257. It also has to be somewhat encouraging the Penguins didn't seek experience with older, more broken down defensemen like Scott Hannan or Jan Hejda.
The most controversial deal sent Despres to the Anaheim Ducks for Lovejoy. Rutherford, of course, saw the positives in such a deal:
"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."
Others, aren't so sure. Sean Gentille summed it up in this great Sporting News piece:
The question, really, is whether Lovejoy, 31, is actually any more reliable. He’s good enough to play regular minutes on a contending team; right now, on March 2, he just might not represent much more than a lateral move — and down the road, it could look worse.
The question is, did the Penguins give up on Despres too soon? At 23, he was having a good season and starting to find his way. However, Rutherford specifically mentioned a recent dip in performance and mentioned wanting to improve the team.
Did he improve the team? If so, it seems like a marginal gain. And the Penguins seemingly still have the same issue after the deadline that they did before it: they only have 3 healthy "top 4" defensemen.
Lovejoy played 2nd paid minutes in Anaheim (with the solid Cam Fowler) so maybe he could be a candidate to play with Christian Ehrhoff . However it doesn't seem like a solid choice.
And now, by trading Despres (who Rob Scuderi has played 67% of his regular season 5v5 minutes so far) the Pens have to sort out their 3rd pair as well. That shouldn't be too difficult, Scuderi has been steadier than most fans care to admit and with Lovejoy, Cole and Derrick Pouliot there is no shortage of good candidates to play in that position.
The Penguins may miss out if Despres turns out to live up to his first round pedigree, but with Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin, they won't miss out on filling out their team in the years to come. It's perhaps a bit disappointing that the Pens only got Lovejoy out of Despres. After almost 6 years of developing and working with Despres, if they were willing to go that far, maybe they should have gone a little further.
Alas, that won't be and the team grabbed some more experience and potentially better defensemen than what they had. Whether it sorts out that way, remains to be seen.