Deadline means defense for Penguins on trade market

| Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, 8:09 p.m.

As the clock ticks steadily toward Monday's NHL trade deadline, general manager Jim Rutherford makes no bones about what's at the top of his shopping list.

He wants a defenseman.

With Ben Lovejoy out long term with an upper-body injury, the Penguins are down to six players with meaningful NHL experience on the blue line. That almost certainly will change before the deadline.

The only question, really, is where the new defenseman will fit on the depth chart.

“With the prices of top-four guys, which there are very few available, it's not necessarily going to be a top-four guy,” Rutherford said. “It may be a guy that's a depth guy. It may be a guy that can play in our top six. But we would like to add a defenseman prior to the deadline.”

From a financial perspective, the price the Penguins are able to pay for a defenseman is limited by the salary cap. Rutherford said the team can add about $2 million in payroll at the deadline.

From an organizational perspective, the Penguins are limited by their unwillingness to move one of the team's top three prospects. Rutherford said in no uncertain terms Friday that he does not want to trade goalie Matt Murray, winger Daniel Sprong or defenseman Derrick Pouliot at the deadline.

He also said the Penguins think next June's draft is deep, so they would prefer to hold on to the extra second-round pick they acquired from Vancouver in the Brandon Sutter trade last summer.

If the Penguins keep all those assets, the best they could hope to land is a defenseman who would provide injury insurance and perhaps push Ian Cole for the sixth spot on the depth chart.

If Rutherford decides to be a bit bolder, Calgary defenseman Kris Russell figures to be one of the deadline's top prizes. While he is not known to drive puck possession, Russell leads the league in blocked shots per game and averages about 22 minutes of ice time for the Flames. He makes $2.6 million on an expiring contract.

TSN reported Friday the Penguins have interest in renting Edmonton's Justin Schultz, a boom-or-bust offensive defenseman who seems to have worn out his welcome with the Oilers. He makes $3.9 million.

A defenseman with local ties also might be on the move by Monday. Vancouver reportedly is shopping Mt. Lebanon native Matt Bartkowski, who makes $1.75 million on an expiring deal. Bartkowski scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season as the Canucks beat Ottawa, 5-3, on Thursday night.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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