PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Pittsburgh Penguins were very busy on the first day of the NHL Free Agency, but it was not a free agent that was making the biggest headlines.
The Pens traded for Phil Kessel, an all-star winger from the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as development players in Tyler Biggs and Tim Erixson.
Pittsburgh did not lose as much as many people expected when the team shipped Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling and Scott Harrington to Toronto. Draft picks were also traded between the two teams.
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford had plenty of good things to say from a day that was filled with transactions.
“I’m very excited about what happened today,” Rutherford said. “We worked on this deal with Toronto for over a month. We set out this off-season to bring in some more skill on the wing and some more speed and I certainly think we covered that by adding Phil Kessel.”
Many questions about Kessel’s attitude and locker room chemistry surfaced as soon as the trade broke. Rutherford said he felt confident with the decision to bring the winger to Pittsburgh.
“I’ve done a lot of homework on this and I talked to a lot of people,” Rutherford said. “He was always the guy that was blamed when things weren’t going well and he doesn’t have to be the guy here. We have a bunch of them.”
One of the surprising things about the trade was the fact that the organization did not have to give Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, two of the team’s best young defensemen.
“To not take a lot off our team and to add Phil Kessel at this point in time gives me personal satisfaction,” Rutherford said.
Earlier in the week, players like Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp were tossed around in trade rumors for the Penguins but Rutherford made it clear that Kessel was at the top of his list.
“As far as players that are out there we are in most deals,” Rutherford said. “But Kessel was our main target. When you look at his goal-scoring ability and his speed, that was really the ideal player we were looking for.”
After the blockbuster trade, the team signed a number of free agents to the roster including Sergei Plotnikov from the KHL.
The Penguins will look to players like these to fill the roles of some notable names who left the roster on their own will including Blake Comeau and Steve Downie.