Shero, Pens ‘Poni’ up for scoring-line winger
General manager Ray Shero wasn’t afraid Tuesday to pony up for a scoring line winger the night before the NHL trade deadline expired.
After the Penguins’ 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres at Mellon Arena, Shero announced a deal with Toronto for scoring-line winger Alexei Ponikarovsky — a 6-foot-4, 229-pound winger who will likely play to the left of center Evgeni Malkin.
Ponikarovsky is likely to join longtime friend Ruslan Fedotenko on a line with Malkin, the leading scorer during the regular season and playoffs last year. Ponikarovsky, 29, and Fedotenko were born a year apart in Kiev, Ukraine.
“He’s a good, hard-working winger,” said Fedotenko. “He drives to the net hard. He’s a good player. I think it’s a good addition.
“We’re ready for the last 19 games now, and the playoffs.”
Shero agreed, and acknowledged he was surprised the Penguins could land a scoring winger after dealing a second-round pick to Florida on Monday for defenseman Jordan Leopold.
“It pushes some guys down in the lineup,” Shero said of this acquisition, adding that the Penguins are “capped out” on making another move related to the NHL roster before the today’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
The Penguins are about $100,000 within the NHL’s $56.8 million salary cap. The should have just enough cap space to recall AHL players for practices as the regular season wraps because returning Olympians are likely to be given reprieves from upcoming practices.
To land Ponikarovsky, who had scored 19 goals and recorded 41 points in 61 games with Toronto, the Penguins surrendered a prized prospect in winger Luca Caputi. To make room for Ponikarovsky’s prorated cap hit of about $488,000, they were forced to deal veteran defenseman Martin Skoula, who counted approximately $133,000 against the salary ceiling.
Skoula, 30, had appeared in 33 games after signing late during training camp. He had played in only three of the last 18 games.
Caputi, 21, a 6-3 winger who could add to his 200-pound frame, was at one time considered the top forward prospect in the organization. Eric Tangradi was among four prospects Shero would not move at the deadline. Others were 2010 first-round pick Simon Despres and developing defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Ben Lovejoy, who is a candidate to play in the NHL next season.
Shero also steadfastly refused to move the Penguins’ 2010 first-round pick, and he wasn’t looking to deal Caputi, the club’s fourth-round pick (111th overall) in 2007.
“(The Maple Leafs’ offer) kind of came back to me in the afternoon, and Luca was the guy they wanted,” he said. “We had a long discussion internally. That was not a guy we wanted to trade or looking to trade. But at the end of the day, Ponikarovsky was that guy for us.
“I didn’t think this was a deal we’d be able to do, and if you’d have told me we could have done this a few days ago I’d have said, ‘No way.’ This gives us a chance to be a good team again.”
Defenseman Alex Goligoski said the acquisitions of Leopold and Ponikarovsky, each playing on expiring contracts at a combined approximate cap hit of $880,000 (prorated), sends a clear message to teams looking to dethrone the Penguins as Stanley Cup champions.
“I think the idea was to get a couple of players that could come in here and help out, and maybe put a little fear into other teams,” he said.