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Penguins Strengthen Defense with Addition of Leopold

Monday, 03.01.2010 / 4:22 PM / Features
By Sam Kasan
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With the NHL’s Wednesday trade deadline fast approaching, Penguins general manager Ray Shero held meetings with his hockey operations staff and the team’s coaching staff to discuss ways to strengthen the roster. After several discussions the Penguins brass came away with the same idea: that the Penguins’ top priority was to add a defenseman.

With their agenda targeted, Shero set out to make a deal happen. He worked the phone for a couple days, and pulled the trigger on a trade Monday morning, acquiring defenseman Jordan Leopold ( Highlights ) from the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2010 second-round draft pick.

"From our meetings and talking to our coaches, our first priority was to try to add a defenseman,” Shero said. “Since Saturday I've been actively trying to do that. I was more of a caller trying to see the value for players, who was going to be available and what the cost was.

"This deal helps us solidify the back end."

“I’m excited,” Leopold said. “I knew it was a possibility that I would get moved out of Florida. The question was where and when. That question was answered (Monday). I’m really excited to join the Penguins. They’re a dynamic team and have been for the last few years. They’ve had a lot of success and deservedly so.”

Leopold, 29, was one of Florida’s top defensemen. He was the team’s top penalty killing blueliner, while also logging 22:25 minutes of ice time per game – second most on the team. Leopold has also seen action for the Panthers in a shutdown role against opposing teams’ top players.

“Jordan Leopold played against Alex Ovechkin every shift last time Florida played Washington,” head coach Dan Bylsma noted. “When his coaches decided who plays against the other team's top line, it was Jordan. That may not be the case for us. ... I think we're getting a guy that will help us defend against the other teams' good players. He's proven that and has been counted on to be that for his team this year."

“I’m excited. I knew it was a possibility that I would get moved out of Florida. The question was where and when. That question was answered (Monday). I’m really excited to join the Penguins. They’re a dynamic team and have been for the last few years. They’ve had a lot of success and deservedly so. - Jordan Leopold
"This is a guy that's played against good players, whether it's Ovechkin or other guys,” Shero said. “That's what he's done. When you're playing 22 minutes a game, as he was in Florida, you're going to get those assignments. They've got a few other guys that did that. Leopold was one of the guys.

“He's one of their top penalty killers. He wasn't playing as much on the power play but he still has seven goals. He's a guy that can skate, move the puck; he's got good NHL experience. I think for our group transitionally and not spending as much time in our end, I think that will be an important addition."

The deal gives the Penguins eight NHL able defensemen, though it isn’t clear yet where Leopold will fit in or how the Penguins will handle their rotation.

“We haven't had that conversation among the coaching staff,” Bylsma said. “That will play out with his assignments and where he falls once he gets here and gets on the ice. I've seen a fair bit of him in the last couple weeks."

Leopold has been changing his mailing address quite frequently the past few seasons. Over the past four years, he has been traded four times while suiting up for four different teams.

Leopold broke into the league in 2002-03 with the Calgary Flames. Calgary traded him to Colorado in 2006, where he played under current Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato. The Flames liked Leopold so much that they re-acquired him at last season’s trade deadline before sending him to Florida in the summer as the key piece of the deal that brought Jay Bouwmeester to Calgary.

“You never get used to it. It was the same scenario last year, getting traded from Colorado to Calgary and then again this summer to Florida,” Leopold said. “Now I’m doing it all over again. It’s like déjà vu. You never get used to it. It’s nerve racking. It’s in the back of your mind and it’s tough to ignore. But I’m happy and excited to join a great team with great guys.”

One of the challenges facing Leopold is adjusting quickly to his new city, surroundings, the team’s system, as well as getting to know new players, coaches and personnel. But Leopold has been in the situation before and the 6-foot-1, 200-pound defender is eager to hit the ice and start the process of finding his groove over the final 20 games of the year.

“It can be difficult,” Leopold said. “I did it last year and now will this year. There is a learning curve to learning the system, the guys, how they play, their tendencies and whatever they may be. It’s a matter of learning those elements. There is a learning curve but not enough to tie you up in that. You just learn the small details, take it as it comes, make the best of it and go from there.

“I talked to (Granato) a couple of times to get caught up. He’s excited to have me. We talked briefly about the town, the fans, locker room, the guys, anything to get me better acquainted as I arrive Monday. It’s new scenery but there is some familiarity.”

To get a guy who plays against the other team's top line, a guy who skates like he skates, joining and supporting the rush, going back for pucks, and a guy who moves the puck like he moves it is a unique opportunity to add to your team ... I think that is what you're adding to the back end and to the team - Dan Bylsma
But once he gets comfortable, Leopold’s presence will strengthen the Penguins’ defensive corps.

Leopold, who will wear No. 4 with the Penguins, has played 416 career games over seven seasons in the NHL with Florida, Calgary and Colorado, totaling 127 points on 36 goals and 91 assists. He set career highs in 2003-04 in goals (9), assists (24), points (33) and plus-minus rating (+8). Leopold added 10 helpers in the Flames’ Stanley Cup Final run that season.

"To get a guy who plays against the other team's top line, a guy who skates like he skates, joining and supporting the rush, going back for pucks, and a guy who moves the puck like he moves it is a unique opportunity to add to your team, whether it's now or in the summer time,” Bylsma said. “That's what we think we're getting and I think that adds to our defense. That adds to the way we want to play. You're also getting a guy that went to the Stanley Cup Final. I think it says a lot that Calgary re-acquired him after that. I think that is what you're adding to the back end and to the team."

“This was a good fit for me,” Leopold said. “They battled hard to get where they are, and are fighting in the standings. I’m excited to be here. It’s an opportunity for me to make a playoff push and Stanley Cup run. But first thing is first, we have to finish out the year here, the final 20 games or so. Then we can get going to make a playoff run.”

Note: Despite adding Leopold’s contract, the Penguins still fit under the NHL’s salary cap so no other moves are necessary. Leopold will be unrestricted free agent.
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