The first of Brian Burke’s moves since the removal of the Olympic roster freeze has been finalized, sending Alexei Ponikarovsky to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s no surprise Poni was dealt, as there have been months of speculation regarding the Ukrainian’s eventual destination. As a pending unrestricted free agent, his solid performance this season made him one of the most sought-after forwards on a pretty bare market.
In return for Ponikarovsky, the Leafs got a very capable prospect in Luca Caputi. Caputi is probably a better investment than anything the Leafs would have gotten with a 2nd rounder, which was rumored to be their minimum asking price. Caputi is probably just about ready to jump into the NHL, if not for a few games this year, then definitely next year. In 2007-08, he racked up 111 points and 107 penalty minutes with the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL. Impressive numbers, considering he finished with only 7 less points than John Tavares, and finished ahead of highly touted prospects like Steve Stamkos, Cody Hodgson and Taylor Hall. I strongly doubt the Pens would have given him up if he was expected to be as good as Tavares or Stamkos, but the kid’s clearly got plenty of offensive talent. This season, the Toronto native has scored 23 goals and 47 points for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, ranking him in the top 25 AHL scorers, and well ahead of any current member of the Marlies.
Also included in the deal is veteran defenseman Martin Skoula, a pending UFA himself, as the Penguins needed to clear cap space to take on Ponikarovsky’s cap hit of $2.1 million. Skoula’s $575,000 salary won’t be Burke’s responsibility for long, as he’s a UFA at the end of the season. Of course, there’s always the possibility that he gets moved in the next 15 hours, as well. At 31 years old, Skoula may not offer the offense he used to (8 points in 33 games for the Pens this year), but he’s still a capable defender that could be of some value to a team looking to add veteran depth to their blueline. Useless piece of information on Skoula: he played his junior hockey in my hometown of Barrie, ON, with the Colts of the OHL.
Ponikarovsky is a solid addition to the Penguins, who look more than ready to make another serious run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. His 19 goals and 41 points rank higher than everyone on the Pens except Crosby and Malkin, and he should be a great fit, probably on Malkin’s line.
In other news, the Leafs looked as bad as ever in tonight’s matchup with Carolina. Giguere didn’t help himself on the game’s first goal, fumbling the puck and virtually handed Chad LaRose an empty net goal. It was all down hill from there. Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter and Tuomo Ruutu all scored 2nd period goals, and Sergei Samsonov added another in the 3rd. John Mitchell spoiled Justin Peters’ bid for his first NHL shutout, but it was still a disappointing start to the end of the season for the Buds.
That’s all for now, as it’s been a pretty quiet evening in terms of big names being moved around. Still no word on Kaberle’s status, but there really hasn’t been any further discussion on him, so at this point, unless Burke’s just playing it close to his chest, I’d have to think he won’t be moved til the draft.