With the Penguins looking to add experience to their blue line before the trade deadline arrived, general manager Jim Rutherford spent much of that day with his staff discussing one particular player they felt could help bring that.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy had originally signed with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent out of Dartmouth College and went on to skate in 98 games (along with nine postseason contests) with the Penguins from 2008-13. While he was a good young player for the Pens, Lovejoy was traded to Anaheim during the lockout-shortened season because of the incredible depth the Pens had on the blue line that year.
The Ducks had more room to give Lovejoy a much bigger role, and as a result he developed and matured into a solid, all-around veteran defender – one the Pens felt strongly about bringing back.
“We had a very, very long meeting this morning and this afternoon because most of these people were here when Ben was here before,” Rutherford said. “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.
“In the meantime, since he’s gone to Anaheim, he’s really blossomed and developed into a very solid, consistent defender and our guys felt very strong about reacquiring this player.”
So Rutherford did.
Right before the trade deadline hit at 3 p.m. Eastern time, he swung a deal to bring Lovejoy back to Pittsburgh in exchange for fellow defenseman Simon Despres.
“I was shocked when I learned I was coming back to Pittsburgh. I’m very excited,” said Lovejoy, whose contract runs through the 2015-16 season. “I loved being a Penguin. I loved living there for three years. I did my best to be a part of the city; I did my best to fill a role on the hockey team. I feel like during my time in Anaheim, I was given a ton more responsibility. I feel like my game has grown by leaps and bounds and I look forward to coming back and being a part of such a great team once again.”
It means a lot to Lovejoy that Pens management thinks so highly of him and wanted to add him back to their group.
“I tried to be a good human being and a good hockey player when I was in Pittsburgh,” he said. “I think that some guys leave town and can bad-mouth their situation, but I have nothing but respect for how I was treated my first time around. I gave the Penguins five and a half years of everything I had. I was so proud to be a Pen. I was so proud to be in the NHL. I always hoped and thought I could do more. But when I was a Penguin, I didn’t know. I had a role and that was my job and I was proud to do it.”
Lovejoy said the reason for his growth in Anaheim – where he was capable of handling top-four (sometimes top-pair minutes) as well as power-play time – was simple.
“I just had more of an opportunity,” he said. “That opportunity at that time wasn’t there with the Pittsburgh Penguins. I understood that. It wasn’t anything I was angry about. I always thought and hoped I could do more, but I didn’t know. And (head coach) Bruce Boudreau and (general manager) Bob Murray gave me an opportunity in Anaheim to really grow my game. I had a ton of responsibility and got a ton of ice time and I will be forever grateful, and I think that I’m returning to Pittsburgh as a vastly improved player and looking forward to doing everything I can to help the Pens continue to win.”
Lovejoy, who found out about the trade when he picked up his phone after practice and saw he had about 15 text messages from Pittsburgh area codes – from both friends in the area and his new (old) teammates – is currently in Phoenix with the Ducks and plans to meet the Pens in Colorado on Tuesday.
“I have heard from a lot of teammates, both those that are still with the Pens and those that I used to play with on the Pens,” he said. “I spent five and a half years in the Penguins system. I feel like when I arrived in Wilkes-Barre, I was a fresh-faced little boy. And I truly feel like the Penguins, when I left, that it was like leaving my high school or leaving my college. I feel like they were my alma mater. I look back that I was sort of an alum of those teams. I was proud to be a Penguin. I very much look forward to coming back.
“I’ve gotten a ton of texts from teammates and I look forward to seeing all of them again. It’ll be an exciting first couple of days. I don’t know much about the Penguins systems right now, but I know that they kicked our butts the first game of the year, 6-4. I know they still have – I can say we now (laughs) – I know we still have the high-end talent in its prime. I know that there have been a lot of changes. I look forward to coming back and trying to fit in as seamlessly as I can.”