PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins just want Jussi Jokinen to be himself, even if the veteran forward will be filling Sidney Crosby’s spot for the time being.
The Penguins acquired Jokinen from the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday in exchange for a conditional draft pick, a move necessitated by the broken jaw sustained by Crosby over the weekend that will keep the league’s leading scorer out indefinitely.
The 30-year-old Jokinen has 121 goals and 225 assists in his eight-year career, including six goals and five assists this season with Carolina.
Jokinen is the fourth player picked up by the Penguins before the trade deadline. Pittsburgh added forwards Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow as well as defenceman Doug Murray last week. General manager Ray Shero thought his shopping spree was over until Crosby took a puck off the face in the first period of a win over the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Crosby underwent surgery and spent a couple days in the hospital, forcing the Penguins to shuffle their lineups. Coach Dan Bylsma inserted Tyler Kennedy into Crosby’s spot on the first line against Buffalo on Tuesday. The Penguins lost 4-1 to the Sabres, halting their 15-game winning streak.
Bylsma plans to move Jokinen to the centre spot between wingers Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz.
“This is a particular case that without Sidney Crosby, for whatever period of time that is, you have a very good guy who has put up lots of points to fill in and to be a real good centerman for you on that line,” Bylsma said before the Penguins played the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
The move, just like the trades to get Iginla, Morrow and Murray, didn’t cost Pittsburgh much. The Hurricanes will receive either a sixth- or seventh-round pick from the Penguins and agreed to pay a portion of Jokinen’s salary. His contract that pays him $3 million per season expires after 2013-14.
“This deal is important for our team’s financial flexibility moving forward,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said.
It’s the second trade between the clubs in less than a year. Pittsburgh traded centre Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes during the draft last June in exchange for Brandon Sutter, a prospect and a draft pick.
Jokinen will keep Crosby’s spot warm until the star forward returns but Shero believes Jokinen’s versatility will almost certainly help him find ice time in the playoffs.
“He’s a very smart player, good stick,” Shero said. “He can play with good players, but also can move around the lineup, left wing, right wing and centre.”
The addition of Jokinen adds another wrinkle for Bylsma to iron out over the final weeks of the regular season. Crosby isn’t the only regular out of the lineup. Pittsburgh is currently playing without top defencemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin, who are nursing lower body injuries.
“We have to come together as a team,” Bylsma said. “That is the challenge at any given time and in particular this group coming together, adding four new faces to our group, the challenge of not having some players in our lineup in terms of defencemen and Sidney Crosby and those guys.”
While the Penguins are prepping for a run at the Stanley Cup, the Hurricanes are trying to avoid missing the playoffs.
Carolina has fallen from the Southeast Division lead after losing nine of 10 during an injury-plagued slump in which its top two goalies and two key defencemen have been hurt. Most recently, the team announced Wednesday that defenceman Joni Pitkanen will miss the rest of the season with a broken left heel.
AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, N.C., and Ira Podell in New York contributed to this report.