Simon Despres: Assessing the Impact of the Defenseman’s Absence on Pens’ Playoff Collapse


The Pittsburgh Penguins are, once again, headed for an early summer after being ousted in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And once again, said defeat came at the hands of the New York Rangers.

Pittsburgh certainly had their hands tied in the quarterfinal match-up, as they entered the series without four of their top five defensemsen – Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta, and Derrick Pouliot – all of whom rank as the club’s best puck-moving blue-liners.

With the Pens falling apart due to their dire need of offense from their back end, the loss of young defenseman Simon Despres seems to ring as all the more significant.

General Manager Jim Rutherford shipped Despres off to the Anaheim Ducks midway through the season in exchange for Ben Lovejoy.

The latter of the two wasn’t great in his return to Pittsburgh, finishing as a -3 in five playoff contests.

Despres, on the other hand, finished as a +1.

While both defenders tallied two assists in their first-round series, it’s the exact nature of how the previously mentioned stats came to be that truly shows these players’ worth.

Whereas Lovejoy’s points both came in Pens’ losses, Despres helped the Ducks sweep the Winnipeg Jets out of the playoffs in four straight games.

He wasn’t simply chipping the puck up and watching as his forwards went to work, either.

Despres’ second point of the postseason was a primary assist on the game-winning goal in Anaheim’s fourth game – i.e. the winner that helped the Ducks clinch their first-round series.

The play showcased the promising talent that would’ve been extremely useful to Pittsburgh in their tilt against the Rangers.

As Ducks forward Tomas Fleischmann sped up the wing with the puck, Despres pinched in and sprinted alongside him towards the Jets’ net. The winger wired a pass over to Despres, who directed the puck on net, prompting a generous rebound which Ryan Kesler buried.

The young defenseman shone bright in Anaheim’s first-round series, displaying his offensive skill and willingness to join the rush as he aided in bolstering the Ducks’ excellent transition game.

Despres didn’t just dole out swift passes, however. He also landed 20 hits over the Ducks’ four games – easily eclipsing Lovejoy’s nine.

The trade seemed to be a foolish one when it first occurred, but the fact that the Pens’ playoff performance clearly showed they were in dire need offense from their blue line, youthful energy, and consistent physicality, renders this one a move that significantly contributed to Pittsburgh’s disappointing postseason.

Considering the Pens’ absurd cap issues this season – which prevented them from suiting up a full six-man defensive unit for numerous games this season – it’s significant to note that Lovejoy doesn’t even come at a cheaper price tag, costing Pittsburgh $1.1 million in cap space while Despres rung in at only $900,000 per year.

The Pens now face another long offseason of questions as they look to re-tool before the 2015-16 season. As the club looks to grow their youth movement, beginning the next phase of Penguins hockey with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both nearing 30 years old, the loss of Despres (whom the Pens burned a first-round draft pick on in 2009) will certainly remain a significant thorn in Pittsburgh’s side.

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