Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Grades: Ben Lovejoy’s Return to Pittsburgh


Due to the magnitude of injuries to their defensive corps, Jim Rutherford and the Pittsburgh Penguins found themselves mandated to seek out blue liners at this year’s trade deadline. And, they did just that.

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There was very little surprise or reaction when Robert Bortuzzo was traded to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Ian Cole. Bortuzzo was struggling to crack the lineup in Pittsburgh, and Cole was having a hard time fitting into the Blues’ system.  But, Rutherford didn’t stop there.

The news broke that the Pittsburgh Penguins had acquired Ben Lovejoy, a former Penguin, and most were okay with the idea of Lovejoy returning as a depth player. However, when it was announced that they had traded Simon Despres, Pittsburgh Penguins faithful erupted, and for good reason.

I’m not going to get into many comparison’s of the two for multiple reasons. This article is meant to assess Lovejoy as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, not analyze the trade. And, I’ll admit that I did a fairly good job of talking myself into liking the swap early-on. I was clearly delusional.  Also, the two are on completely different ends of the spectrum when it comes to their style of play.

That being said, how did Lovejoy fit in with the Pittsburgh Penguins after being acquired at the deadline?

When Ben Lovejoy first joined the Pens he was playing most of his minutes with Derrick Pouliot.  There aren’t a lot that remember his play during that period, but he was quite effective.  He was able to play a role that suits his talent level and strengths, and he provided Pouliot with the room he needed to step up and make plays offensively.  It was a very good pair.

When Pouliot suffered an injury, followed by Christian Ehrhoff and Kris Letang, things started going downhill quickly for Ben Lovejoy.  All of a sudden he found himself in situations that he wasn’t suited for.  He was playing top-four minutes against the opponent’s best forwards and getting exposed regularly.  The most alarming thing for me is that he struggled so bad with defensive fundamentals.  His stick positioning, body language, and reads were far from what you’d expect from an NHL veteran.

Analytics will tell us a very similar story about Lovejoy.  I’m not a big fan of measuring defensemen heavily with possessions stats like corsi and fenwick, as shot attempts are obviously reliant on the forwards you’re playing with.  But, I do like to look at WOWY (with or without you) data as it shows a direct correlation with how that individual is impacting his line mates.

Very few players were able to sustain similar or higher possession numbers when on the ice with Lovejoy.  For the most part players saw a significant decrease in their numbers with him.  That’s a telling sign that you’re negatively impacting your team’s ability to suppress shots and create offense off the transition.

I’m going to give Lovejoy a D. Again, this isn’t grading the trade that brought him here, but simply his performance since arriving in March.  He had very noticeable lapses in judgement, especially in the playoffs, which is why he was brought here. Rutherford said that he wanted a veteran defenseman for their playoff run, but he’s a big part of the reason that run ended so early.

Lovejoy’s contract isn’t crippling enough for Jim Rutherford to feel pressured into a trade or buyout.  Maybe he’ll show improvement this season as Paul Martin did after struggling to find his way in his first season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Either way, the bottom line is that Lovejoy should never be considered higher than a bottom-pairing depth guy.

Next: Offseason Grades Continued: Reviewing Brandon Sutter

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