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Penguins’ deal for Brassard starts trade battle among East teams

Jonathan Bombulie
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The Senators' Derick Brassard reacts to his goal during the first period against the Flyers on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Philadelphia. The Penguins acquired Brassard over the weekend.
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Boston Bruins forward Rick Nash (61) skates prior to the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
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The Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec looks to pass the puck as the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo watches during the first period Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in St. Louis.

When the Penguins acquired center Derick Brassard from Ottawa on Friday, giving themselves an offensive attack that looks like a matchup nightmare for any potential playoff opponent, it was one of the first shots fired in what already has become a heated Eastern Conference arms race.

After the Penguins made their big move, the Boston Bruins picked up scoring winger Rick Nash from the Rangers on Sunday. The Toronto Maple Leafs beefed up their center depth by picking up Tomas Plekanec from Montreal. Columbus got a little help in the middle in the form of Edmonton’s Mark Letestu, too.

The competition for top players only figures to get more intense as Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline draws closer.

Tampa Bay has been rumored to be interested in adding a big-name defenseman — the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh or Detroit’s Mike Green, if not the biggest gun of them all, Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson. The Washington Capitals have yet to be heard from, either.

While Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford might have started the player-acquisition escalation with the Brassard move, that was by no means his intention.

Rutherford said he pays no attention to the moves made by other contenders as he’s shaping his roster at the trade deadline, and he gave a concrete example to prove his point.

Last season, with the Penguins beset by injuries on the blue line as the deadline approached, everyone assumed Rutherford was looking to add a defenseman.

The most coveted rental on the market was Kevin Shattenkirk. Rumors had the Penguins sniffing around the erstwhile St. Louis defenseman before he eventually was sent to Washington.

Rutherford didn’t feel the need to retaliate against the Capitals. He was content with his depth additions of Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit.

“I don’t look at it at all,” Rutherford said. “Last year is a good example of it. I think St. Louis probably used us as leverage in the Shattenkirk deal because everyone thought we were in on it. We were out of it very early. That did not affect my thinking at all when he went to Washington.”

Rutherford said Friday that he feels no pressure to make further deals before Monday’s deadline, but given the magic trick he pulled off to get Brassard without giving up any space under the salary cap, it’s impossible to rule him out of the running for any of the impact players still available.

The most likely scenario, however, would see the Penguins in the hunt for a depth defenseman or forward. According to capfriendly.com, they could add a player making a little under $2 million without any further subtractions from the roster.

Adding a defenseman would help make up for the loss of Ian Cole in the Brassard deal and force Matt Hunwick to compete for his spot in the lineup. Adding a forward could create the same type of competition for the team’s inexperienced or underperforming wingers.

Given the success Rutherford had at the trade table over the past three seasons, it’s perfectly reasonable to think opposing GMs might be growing weary of helping the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions add any more pieces for their three-peat bid.

Rutherford said he hasn’t encountered any of that sort of sentiment in trade talks this season, but he revealed a philosophy that might say a lot about the 69-year-old’s competitive fire.

If the shoe were on the other foot, Rutherford’s not sure he would offer the Penguins any aid or comfort at the deadline.

“If I was on the other side of this,” he said, “I would be making it as hard as I could for the other team if they had won last year.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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