NHL Trade Plot Thickens Following Penguins, Ducks Exchange

Ryan WhitneyTotal Pro Sports – The Pittsburgh Penguins finally got some scoring help for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The Penguins acquired forward Chris Kunitz earlier today in a deal with the Anaheim Ducks that sent defenseman Ryan Whitney to Southern California.  Pittsburgh also landed highly touted forward prospect Eric Tangradi from the Ducks.  Kunitz, 29, gives the Penguins a proven scorer to put on the wing of one of their two All-Star centers.  Through 62 games this season, Kunitz has registered 16 goals and 35 points and has tallied 25 and 21 goals in each of the first two seasons following the lockout.

At the time of the trade, Pittsburgh was 10th in the Eastern Conference and just 2 standings points back of the 8th place teams in the East, Florida and Buffalo.  With the emergence of youthful blueliners Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, the Penguins were able to part with some of their defensive depth in order to add some scoring punch to a team that was the runner-up in last year’s Cup Finals.  The added bonus for the Pens is that unlike last year’s deadline acquisition of Marian Hossa, Kunitz isn’t a rental player.  The winger still has 3 years left on his remaining contract, which will pay him an average of $3.8 million over the next three seasons.

The other half of the trade arguably raises more questions than it answers.  Anaheim’s acquisition of Whitney lends even more credence to the already swirling rumors that the Ducks might be looking to move veteran blue liners Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.  Whitney, like Kunitz, has years left on his contract.  Four to be exact, at $4.5 million per year, which means the Ducks have one of the game’s top young, offensive defensemen in the league locked up for the next several years.  Pronger, meanwhile, has just one year left on his current deal while Niedermayer will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.  Both could certainly help an Anaheim team that’s currently on the outside of the Western playoff picture looking in, but with the addition of Whitney, it seems unlikely the Ducks will retain both skaters as other playoff hopefuls look for deadline answers.

Anaheim GM Bob Murray certainly won’t give away Pronger or Niedermayer for nothing, but as the March 4th deadline approaches and pressure mounts on General Managers across the league, the asking price for former Cup champions like Pronger and Niedermayer will certainly rise.  Look for teams in desperate need of locker room leadership like the New York Rangers or Montreal Canadiens to make a run at either of the two defensemen.

Tags: Chris Kunitz, Eric Tangradi, Evgeni Malkin, hockey, NHL, Ryan Whitney, sidney crosby, trade,