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Updated 7 hours ago
With injuries knocking players out of the Penguins lineup left and right, what general manager Jim Rutherford craved more than anything with six days left until the NHL trade deadline was some stability on his blue line.
So he picked up one of the steadier players on the market.
The Penguins acquired defenseman Ron Hainsey from the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday for a second-round pick in the 2017 draft and minor-league winger Danny Kristo.
Since joining the Hurricanes in 2013, the 35-year-old Hainsey has missed only two games. In all four of his seasons with the team, he's averaged between 21 and 23 minutes of ice time and recorded between 10 and 19 points.
Although he recorded three straight 30-point seasons in the middle of his career, he's settled into a penalty-killing role in his 30s. He's one of 16 NHL players this season to average more than three minutes of shorthanded ice time per game.
“I think he's a really underrated player,” said winger Eric Fehr, who played with Hainsey in Winnipeg in 2011-12. “He's got a real long stick, and he's always in the right spot. He just very silently goes about his business. I think he's a great addition.”
Hainsey got the news while at Hurricanes practice Thursday morning. He squeezed in a workout, packed his bags, stopped at his 6-year-old daughter's school to tell her daddy would be playing for a new team and hopped a flight to Pittsburgh.
Hainsey is the active NHL player with the most games played without a playoff appearance. That is about to change.
“It's not just a playoff team, right? It's a team that obviously won last year ,and I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds by saying it's a team that expects to win this year,” Hainsey said. “That's certainly the most exciting part of it. (Carolina GM Ron Francis) told me this morning it was Pittsburgh, and if you could pick a spot where you say, ‘If we don't win the Stanley Cup, we're going to be disappointed,' this would certainly qualify.”
Rutherford said he and team officials will decide soon whether to pursue further reinforcements on defense before Wednesday's trade deadline.
“I'd say in the next 24 hours, we'll make that decision,” Rutherford said. “You know, you can look at that in two ways. You add another NHL defenseman, and (when) you're totally healthy, then you have a situation where you have one or two guys that aren't happy sitting in the stands. Then you look at it the other way where you can never have enough and you're hurt all the time, and you may need one. We're thinking about that right now.”
The Hurricanes will pay half of Hainsey's salary of $2,833,333, which Rutherford said was a necessity to make the deal work for the Penguins from a salary cap perspective. Hainsey will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
If the Penguins knew Olli Maatta's hand or Daley's knee would keep them out for the rest of the regular season, they could place one or both on the long-term injured list and acquire replacement players with commensurate salaries. Rutherford said he thinks both will be back before season's end, however.
Without an LTIR exemption, the Penguins essentially would have to move players out on a dollar-for-dollar basis with players they bring in.
Rutherford didn't rule out a more complicated or comprehensive transaction in the next five days, but he acknowledged he would have to get “creative” to make it happen.
He also downplayed the likelihood of a Marc-Andre Fleury trade before the deadline, saying he would talk to the veteran goaltender about his wishes in the next few days, but “he very well could be part of our team down the stretch.”
Rutherford also didn't rule out standing pat beyond the addition of Hainsey.
“As long as we get rested and we're healthy, I feel very confident,” he said. “This is a good team.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.
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