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Ducks trade Chris Kunitz for Penguins' Ryan Whitney

Pittsburgh defenseman brings needed strengths to a weakened blue line crew.

February 27, 2009|Helene Elliott

Determined to revive their deteriorating defense with an infusion of puck-moving skills, the Ducks on Thursday acquired Ryan Whitney from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the steep cost of gritty left wing Chris Kunitz and power-forward prospect Eric Tangradi.

Although Ducks General Manager Bob Murray said the move was not a prelude to trading away veteran Chris Pronger, it clearly gave him that option.

Whitney, a formidable 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, is 26 and in the second year of a six-year deal with an annual cap hit of $4 million. He can do many of the same things as Pronger, who's slowing at 34 but can help a Stanley Cup contender that can afford him the rest of this season and take a $6.25-million cap hit next season.

Murray said the deal "was not a sell," but he may be forced to write off the season if the Ducks don't dramatically rebound before Wednesday's trade deadline.

"This was done because going forward we needed to do something here," Murray said during a conference call with reporters. "I'm a big believer in building from the back end out, and the back end was not good enough."

Whitney made his Ducks debut Thursday, playing 24 minutes 19 seconds, mostly paired with Pronger, in the team's 6-0 loss to the Bruins in Boston. That's Whitney's hometown and he had been there to support his mother, Sue, as she underwent successful brain surgery Wednesday.

"He's a big kid who can skate and move the puck," Murray said. "The game is evolving, and you better get the puck out of your own zone.

"We have good forwards and you have to get the puck to the forwards. Whitney can do that. He also is very good on the power play. He can shoot the puck and sees the ice very well."

Kunitz, signed by the Ducks as an undrafted free agent, averaged 23 goals the last two seasons and was a key factor in their 2007 Cup title.

Murray called Kunitz "a true warrior" and said he tried to avoid trading Tangradi but had to give up quality players to fill what he saw as a greater need.

"I don't know if you guys can understand how tough it is to find a puck-moving defenseman," he said. "I guarantee you it's harder to get a top-four defenseman than a top-six forward."

Whitney was a force on the Penguins' defense last season, when the team reached the Cup finals. However, he missed the first 33 games this season after undergoing surgery on his left foot in September and his slow recovery made him a target of boos. He had two goals, 13 points and a minus-15 defensive rating in 28 games.

Murray said Whitney might need surgery on his right foot, which would be done early in the summer if necessary. "I have no problem with what happened there," Murray said.

Before the game, Whitney said he welcomed the trade as a second chance to establish himself as a top-notch player. "I can play better, and I think I will," he said.

"It's a new start and a team that I feel wants me. They gave up a good player and a real good prospect.

"It's exciting to know that this team really wants me and I'm happy to be here as well."

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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