The Ducks’ push to upgrade their defense for the postseason led them to a flurry of activity at Monday’s NHL trade deadline, as they acquired defensemen James Wisniewski from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Simon Despres from Pittsburgh, Korbinian Holzer from Toronto and center Michael Sgarbossa from Colorado in deals announced at the buzzer.
Wisniewski, 31, is the major get.
He returns to the first-place Ducks (40-17-7) after spending two seasons in Anaheim from 2008-10. In Columbus, he provided eight goals and 29 points in 56 games this season with 34 penalty minutes. Wisniewski is a $5.5-million-salary-cap hit for the Ducks through the 2017-18 season.
"Wisniewski is not only a solid NHL defenseman, but he adds grit," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He adds a power-play shot that is as good as anybody’s in the league.
"It’s something we’ve been lacking, especially since Sami [Vatanen] went down."
Wisniewski can not only help the Ducks on the power play, with top-scoring defenseman Vatanen injured, he might join Cam Fowler on the Ducks’ first defensive pair, replacing Ben Lovejoy, who was sent back to Pittsburgh for Despres. The Columbus Dispatch first reported the Wisniewski deal, which the Ducks later confirmed.
Anaheim parted with rookie center William Karlsson, who was sent back to minor-league Norfolk last week after a brief return when center Nate Thompson was injured; ineffective forward Rene Bourque, who cleared waivers Monday morning; and a second-round draft pick this year.
The Ducks also receive a third-round pick this year from Columbus that originally belonged to the Detroit Red Wings in the deal.
On the NHL Network, Wisniewski said he was excited about returning to a team where he was familiar with General Manager Bob Murray and veterans Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. He was dealt from Anaheim to the New York Islanders for a third-round pick in 2010.
The 6-feet-4, 214-pound Despres, 23, is an everyday NHL player who was plus-nine with 64 penalty minutes in 59 games, contributing two goals and 17 points for the playoff-bound team.
TSN first reported that trade.
Lovejoy said he didn't realized he had been traded until he returned to the locker room after practice and saw 15 text messages on his phone welcoming him back to Pittsburgh.
"I saw a few guys leaving the ice, a guy or two," Lovejoy said. "I thought I was safe and then I wasn’t.”
The 31-year-old blueliner said he will always look fondly upon his time with the Ducks since the team gave him the opportunity to develop into a solid NHL player.
"I’ve loved it [in Anaheim]," he said. "This place has been amazing for me both personally and professionally. I was given an opportunity here that I am so grateful for.
"I’ve always thought I could do it but I didn’t know. I forever will be grateful to Anaheim for that."
Lovejoy contributed a goal and 11 points with 17 penalty minutes. He was plus-three in 40 games after breaking a finger in an Oct. 26 fight against San Jose and not returning until Dec. 12.
Lovejoy was perhaps the most candid Duck and he said early last month after being a healthy scratch in games Feb. 5 at Nashville and Feb. 8 in Tampa Bay, that he badly wanted to remain in Anaheim and help the Ducks win a Stanley Cup after the team was eliminated by the eventual-champion Kings in a seven-game Western Conference semifinal last season.
Lovejoy acknowledged on that road trip that he was aware the Ducks were seeking a defenseman to possibly replace him. His cause was hurt a game later, when he was minus-three Feb. 10 in a 6-2 loss at Florida.
“I need to be better,” Lovejoy said afterward. “We can't give up that many goals, and we've done it a lot recently.
"Gotta look in the mirror, go punch the pillow.”
He rallied to contribute five hits and five blocked shots in a 4-2 home win over the Kings on Friday.
Lovejoy’s experience is seen as the major reason Pittsburgh has brought him back after he previously said he became lost in the shuffle of the talented roster.
After the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, they drafted Despres in the first round. He shifted between minor-league Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the last three seasons before this one. The Ducks are missing leading-scoring defenseman Vatanen, who was deemed out four to six weeks after last playing Feb. 15.
Holzer, acquired for defenseman Eric Brewer and a pick not immediately identified, told TSN, “I’m a little bit out of words,” after being told by his girlfriend that he’d been traded, but was uncertain to which team because she didn’t recognize the Ducks’ logo. TSN then called Holzer to confirm their reporting of the trade.
Holzer, 27, has six points and 25 penalty minutes in 34 games.
“I look to be strong defensively and play physically,” Holzer told the Toronto Sun.
The Ducks sent forward Mat Clark to Colorado for Sgarbossa.
Los Angeles Times columnist Helene Elliott contributed to this report.