Thursday, February 26, 2009
Updated: February 27, 12:19 PM ET
Penguins send Whitney to Ducks
By Pierre LeBrun
The Pittsburgh Penguins added a quality forward to their lineup Thursday when they acquired Chris Kunitz and 20-year-old prospect Eric Tangradi from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for offensive defenseman Ryan Whitney.
Penguins fans have been clamoring for general manager Ray Shero to get a winger to play with Sidney Crosby. Mission accomplished, although Shero downplayed the fact the player was acquired specifically to play with No. 87.
"He's a top six-forward; wherever the coach wants to play him, he'll play him," Shero told ESPN.com. "Kunitz is going to be a good player for us. I love the way he plays. He's got character, leadership; he'll play a little bigger role here than I think he did recently [in Anaheim].
"I've watched him forever and [Penguins coach] Dan Bylsma coached him [in the AHL] and played with him," Shero added. "He's a guy that can play with good players. He's got the speed, the hockey sense, the hands. We really like him."
The Penguins are currently on the outside looking in for a playoff spot with 66 points, two fewer than eighth-place Florida and Buffalo and one point behind Carolina. The key to the deal for Shero was that regardless of what happened this season, Kunitz is not a rental player because he has three more years on his deal.
"Yes, that's very important," Shero said. "We looked around and looked around, but we don't need rental guys. If I'm making a deal for Whitney, who has four more years on his deal, I need a guy in return who is signed. Kunitz has three more years, which fits into where we are going. It's at the right price, too. We can't afford a $6 million or $7 million guy under our cap."
Kunitz, 29, will earn $3.6 million next season; $3.8 million in 2010-11; and $4 million in 2011-12. He won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007.
Tangradi, a Philadelphia native, is a highly touted prospect who has 87 points (38 goals, 49 assists) in 52 games with the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls this season. Anaheim drafted him 42nd overall in 2007.
"I wasn't going to do the deal straight up," Shero said. "I think there's too much value in a defenseman signed for four more years, so I needed something else and Tangradi is a guy we really liked. He's very raw; he's got a ways to grow; he's a big kid with talent."
The Penguins had depth on the blue line and could afford to lose a good player like Whitney. They also had offers for Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, but decided to move Whitney.
Whitney, 26, has four more years on a new deal that pays him $3.5 million in 2009-10, $4.5 million in 2010-11, $5 million in 2011-12 and $5.5 million in 2012-13.
Whitney, who was drafted by the Penguins and has never played with another team, was expected to join his new teammates in Boston, where the Ducks were scheduled to play the Bruins at 7 p.m. ET Thursday. It was not immediately known if Whitney would be in the lineup.
"I'm a little nervous right now," Whitney said. "But at the same time I'm really excited."
Anaheim GM Bob Murray said he has been a fan of Whitney's for a long time.
"He sees the ice well. He jumps into the play well," Murray told ESPN.com shortly before the Ducks and Bruins squared off in Boston on Thursday night.
Murray acknowledged it was hard to give up a piece of the Ducks' Cup-winning team in Kunitz, whom Murray called a "warrior".
"But to get a young defenseman like that you've got to give. It's a good deal for both teams," Murray said.
As for the notion that Whitney's acquisition will speed the exit of either Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger or both, Murray was noncommittal.
For the Ducks, meanwhile, it sets up an interesting situation with regard to either star defensemen Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer, as the team has been contemplating moving one of them. Pronger has another year left on his deal; Niedermayer is an unrestricted free agent July 1 but hasn't decided whether he's playing again next season.
Murray may move one of them by Wednesday's trade deadline, or he could wait until the NHL entry draft and include more bidders for Pronger.
Either way, Murray has protected himself on the blue line in case he trades Pronger and Niedermayer retires.
Pierre LeBrun is a hockey writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com's Scott Burnside was used in this report.