The Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks swapped defensemen Monday, with Simon Despres going to Anaheim and Ben Lovejoy going to Pittsburgh, where he started his NHL career.
The Penguins also acquired defenseman Ian Cole from the St. Louis Blues for Robert Bortuzzo and a seventh-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
"The reasons for these trades is that when we looked at our defense, despite the fact that it's played pretty well to this point, we were concerned about the experience of our defense," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We were looking to upgrade it a little bit, more from a veteran presence.
"Since Ben Lovejoy left here, he has gained great experience in Anaheim and has played extremely well and that will continue when he comes back to Pittsburgh. And in Ian Cole's case, he's been in the League and has some good experience and has played extremely well this year."
Lovejoy, 31, is more of a stable, safer, stay-at-home defenseman. Despres, who was Pittsburgh's first-round pick in 2009 (No. 30), has more offensive upside than Lovejoy but was playing sheltered minutes for the Penguins and was criticized for being prone to turnovers.
Lovejoy started his career with the Penguins before being traded to the Ducks early in the 2012-13 season. He played 98 games in parts of five seasons with Pittsburgh but became a regular for Anaheim, appearing in a career-high 78 games last season. He has 11 points in 40 games this season.
"He was a young guy, still feeling his way in the League, and the Penguins at that point in time had a lot of defensemen, so they could afford to move him," Rutherford said. "In the meantime, since he's gone to Anaheim, he's really blossomed. He's developed into a very solid, consistent defender. So our guys felt very strong about reacquiring this player."
Despres had 17 points in 59 games this season. He was playing primarily on the Penguins' third pair with Rob Scuderi. He joins a mobile defense in Anaheim that features Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Francois Beauchemin and Sami Vatanen, who is injured. The Ducks also acquired James Wisniewski from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday.
Cole, the 18th pick in the 2007 NHL Draft by the Blues, essentially is Pittsburgh's replacement for Despres. Lovejoy can be seen as the replacement for Bortuzzo.
Cole has four goals, nine points and a plus-16 rating in 54 games this season. He has nine goals, 31 points and a plus-40 rating in 167 regular-season games during parts of five seasons.
"You're always hoping for more, but you look at St. Louis' defense and that's a very experienced, almost star-studded defense. So you can understand why sometimes he may be in and out of the lineup," Rutherford said. "He brings good depth to our blue line. He's had a very good year this year and we hope that continues here."
Bortuzzo has two goals, six points and 68 penalty minutes in 38 games. A third-round pick (No. 78) of the Penguins in the 2007 draft, he has four goals, 20 points and 171 penalty minutes in 113 games in parts of four seasons.
Bortuzzo should be a depth defenseman for the Blues once Kevin Shattenkirk and Zbynek Michalek get healthy and are able to play.
St. Louis acquired Michalek on Monday but he is out indefinitely because of an upper-body injury. Shattenkirk had abdominal surgery last month and is likely due back at some point later this month.